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Learning About Learning

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Rick Stamm

on 7 February 2015

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Transcript of Learning About Learning

Learning About Learning:
Your Brain's Perspective

Your Brain as a
Learning Machine

Modes of Thinking
Testing may be one of the best ways to move information into Long-Term Memory. It is best if used with Spaced Repetition. By quizzing yourself in short spurts over time, that neural pathway will develop from the “path in the woods” into a “super highway” traveled without a lot of thought. Today, technology offers us a number of tools to assist which can supplement basic recall (BTW, recall probably works best with your eyes closed or by covering up multiple choice answers before selecting them).
Support Your Brain - Three Final Thoughts
How does my brain
Learning isn't learning unless it ends up in storage for future retrieval. This happens through two primary memory systems in our brain - Working Memory and Long-Term Memory.
Working Memory
Working Memory takes place in the pre-frontal cortex. Research suggests we have only four "slots" in which to hold information when we are consciously thinking about something. Somewhat like an inefficient blackboard which loses content if not placed into long-term memory. The brain uses chunking to make the most of these four slots - connecting pieces of information into a chunk which can then be placed into long-term memory. The arrangement of bits of information in this Prezi is similar to chunking.

Quizlet - This is a great tool for those of us with smart phones since there is an app for handy testing on the go.
Since this presentation is a reflection of my experience with a Coursera course, I must also recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to take Coursera quizzes more than once in most courses. Even if you score 100% on a quiz, moving the knowledge into long-term memory can be enhanced by going back to each quiz as often as allowed over a period of time and testing yourself. Also, try covering up the multiple choice answers and reflect on the question before responding.
When learning something new we are generally in a
Focused Mode
of thinking. Our brain exerts a great amount of energy in this mode. Creativity, on the other hand, often comes from a more
Diffuse Mode
of thinking where the brain is left to move almost on its own.
Anki - another great testing tool.
Current research in neuroscience is helping us understand the marvelous machine all of us carry around with us - our brain. By understanding some simple basics relating brain science to how we learn, we can all be better students and be able to apply new knowledge to the creation of a richer life. While there are a multitude of aspects to this connection between neuroscience and learning, I suggest the following topics to be a good starting point and offer this presentation as a high level review:

Topic A - Memory

Topic B - Modes of Thinking

Topic C - Testing

Topic D - Brain Health
To actually learn something, we
need to be able to retrieve information. This means moving it from Working Memory into Long-Term Memory.

Reflections on the Coursera course, Learning How to Learn, conducted by Dr. Barbara Oakley & Dr. Terrence Sejnowski
In the brain, this involves creating neural pathways that can be accessed in the future. For new information or behavior it takes repetition. Think of it as creating a new path from point A to point B. The first time might involve arduously working your way through trees or brush. The more often you travel the path the easier it becomes until it becomes a superhighway you travel without much deliberate thought.
A pinball machine is a good metaphor for these modes. In the Focused Mode the ball stays within a limited number of bumpers. While this is good for concentrating on specific facts or problems, it cuts off the brain’s creativity.

In the Diffuse Mode the bumpers are more spread out and thoughts can wander a bit. If we move out of the Focused Mode for a while and do other things such as exercise, sleep, mindless tasks, shower, etc., our brain can make connections between various bits of information and bring new insights when we least expect them.
Sleep - Recent research shows that sleep is not just for renewing your body. The brain is actually working while you sleep. It is organizing all of the experiences of the day and, more importantly, cleaning out debris. Getting a good night’s sleep before an exam will insure maximum performance.
Exercise - Our brains are not that much different from our stone-age ancestors. Those brains were accustomed to walking about 12 miles per day and doing very little sitting. That exercise was essential for brain health. And so it is today. To enhance your ability to learn, get a lot of exercise and monitor the amount of sitting you do. Moving around during the day may be more important than that hour at the gym.

Life Long Learner - Your brain will be healthier if you continue to learn new things. Today, being a life-long learner is easier than ever. Coursera is a great place to start. To get the most of it, explore topics you know nothing about.

Credits & References
Working Memory Image - Copyright Kevin Mendez

Working Memory Reference - Brain Rules by John Medina

Long Term Memory Image - Copyright Kevin Mendez

Long Team Memory Reference - Brain Rules by John Medina

Path and Highway Image from Google

Pinball Images - Copyright Kevin Mendez

Quizlet Reference

Anki Reference

Sleep Image - Copyright Kevin Mendez

Sleep Reference - Brain Rules by John Medina

Exercise - Stoneage Man from Google

Exercise Reference - Brain Rules by John Medina

Life-long Learner Reference - Brain Rules by John Medina
Full transcript