The human brain is absolutely fascinating! Although many scientific findings have emerged int he last few decades, there is still so much more to be learned. Speaking about learning, what exactly is learning?
In a broad view, learning is the process of knowledge acquisition that leads to a permanent change in behavior. We are learning something new every second of the day, whether we are aware of it or not. We learn through observation, imitation, experimentation, abstraction, interaction, etc. Most of all, we learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others.
But how do we know that learning did actually take place? True learning happens when this new piece of information is ingrained or encoded in our long-term memory (LTM) and can be retrieved when we need it.
Memory “is the term given to the structures and processes involved in the storage and subsequent retrieval of information (McLeod, 2013). Psychologists have identified three stages of memory: (1) encoding, (2) storage, and (3) retrieval. Learning involves all of these stages, but it goes further because it also changes our behavior.
Information enters our brain through sensory registers and is perceived by being compared with information previously stored in the LTM. At this point, it enters the short-term memory (STM), also called working memory (WM). This information can stay activated for some time, be transferred to the LTM, or be lost (Omrod et al., 2009).
Researchers have spent a lot of time and effort investigating what variables interfere with these processes. They have recognized, for instance, that information is mainly encoded through visual encoding (how something looks), acoustic encoding (how something sounds), semantic encoding (what something means), and tactile encoding (what something feels) (The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d.).
What is interesting is that studies have demonstrated that semantic encoding has the highest correlation with storing information in the LTM (McLeod, 2013). Omrod et al. (2009) states that the process of encoding is facilitated through organization, elaboration, meaningfulness, and links with schema structures. Providing opportunities for deliberate thinking and application of knowledge are great ways to improve encoding.
Equally important is to be able to find the information when we need it, otherwise it becomes useless knowledge. This is why many studies are focused on ways to improve information retrieval. Techniques such as schemas, chunking, state-dependent memory, and deliberate practice are examples of strategies that can help teachers and students enhance information recall (The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d.).
As you can see, there is SO MUCH to be explored in the realm of learning and the brain. This post has just touched the surface of these complex process, but there is a wealth of reliable information, tips and strategies for educators like you and me that can be found on the web.
I would like to close by suggesting 2 websites I believe can provide useful information and resources for educators who crave knowledge that can transform the way they teach and design instructional materials in order to promote better learning experiences.
The first is Harvard University’s The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. The site is geared to Harvard’s students and staff, but it is open to the public and you can find an array of resources and latest research findings relevant to the field of education. Their mission statement is to provide experimentation, innovation, and evidence-based practices that can transform learning experiences. The community is comprised of faculty and affiliates, undergraduate and graduate fellows. When you visit the website, check out the online resources tab. There are valuable insights on how to design a course, how to make lesson plans more engaging to motivate students to learn, how to get and give feedback constructively, tips on teaching remotely, and a variety of articles on the science of learning.
Lastly, I would like to suggest is Simply Psychology, mostly written by Saul McLeod, who holds a degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Research. Mcleod is a Psychology teacher at the University of Manchester and has over 17 years experience working with higher education. His articles on Simply Psychology have been referenced by prestigious media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, The Telegraph, The BBC, The Washington Post, and The Guardian. What I find interesting about this website is that it explains complex Psychology theories and approaches in a simple and easy way. The images and graphics are compelling and new articles are posted weekly. Although not all articles have a direct link to education concerns, you will be able to review all the psychology knowledge that forms the basis of our understanding on how we learn and how we can improve our student’s learning outcome.
How Memory Works. Derek Bok Center, Harvard University. (n.d.). https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/how-memory-works.
Mcleod, S. (1970, January 1). Stages of Memory. Memory, Encoding Storage and Retrieval | Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/memory.html.
Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York, NY: Pearson.