The Neuroscience of Learning


The Neuroscience of Learning

Remarkable findings of how our brains work when we are learning provide invaluable insights into improving educational practices.

Members: 40
Latest Activity: Dec 19, 2013

What we can learn from neuroscience about learning

This Group will bring to the table a number of studies done by neuroscientists of various kinds which impact our understanding of how brains and the minds connected to them learn. Although these studies are in themselves able to satisfy one's idle curiosity, the discussions here are aimed at drawing implications from the findings these studies produced that relate to how we educate our kids and ourselves.

Maryanne Wolf's study Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain is the first to be added to the Group's discussions. Anyone can add at any time a new discussion, referenced to a book, journal article, video, etc., which relates findings of studies of the brain and its cognitive extensions to learning. And, the more immediate the relevance to practical application, the better!

Discussion Forum

"Neuroscience and the Classroom" --a course from Annenberg Learner 6 Replies

"Neuroscience and the Classroom"Top-of-the-line researchers, fantastic course.  I'm starting it now--anyone want to join me? Continue

Started by Connie Weber. Last reply by Connie Weber Dec 21, 2011.

Goldie Hawn? and neuroscience?? 1 Reply

Yes - that one. She has gathered a program on mindfulness, neuroscience and learning. Here's an interview I just posted on fb and g+. And it's headed with a super Laugh In track.…Continue

Started by Ian Carmichael. Last reply by Skip Zilla Oct 13, 2011.

Wisdom 9 Replies

I wanted to put this in MY group, Florigelia, but it belongs here. The pursuit of wisdom is one of the deepest, most important pursuits of life (veering away from the classic trio of truth, good and…Continue

Tags: Stephen_Hall, Wisdom

Started by Ian Carmichael. Last reply by Ian Carmichael Jun 10, 2011.

"Incognito" 10 Replies

"Incognito"from the article:"Evidence mounts that brains decide before their owners know about it""EVERYONE has had…Continue

Tags: insight, eureka, neuroscience

Started by Connie Weber. Last reply by James Croft Aug 15, 2009.

"You Are Who You Are by Default" --by Tina Hesman Saey, in Science News

"You Are Who You Are by Default" --by Tina Hesman Saey, in Science News"It may be…Continue

Tags: neuroscience, default+network

Started by Connie Weber Jul 19, 2009.

"Genius Locus" --The Economist

"Genius Locus: The link between autism and extraordinary ability" --The Economistfrom the article:"THAT genius is…Continue

Tags: neuroscience, genius, autism

Started by Connie Weber Apr 24, 2009.

new insights on Alzheimer's, from Nature News Highlights

new insights on Alzheimer's, from Nature: "New PrPetrator in AD" by Lev Osherovich, Senior Writer"Yale University…Continue

Tags: neuroscience, prion+proteins, Alzheimer's

Started by Connie Weber Apr 14, 2009.

One World, Many Minds 4 Replies

It's not quite neuroscience and learning - but here's a recent Scientific American article of the development(s) of intelligence(s).…Continue

Tags: animal-diversity, variation_of_intelligence, Evolution_of_intelligence, Scientific_American

Started by Ian Carmichael. Last reply by Ellen Pham Dec 31, 2008.

In two minds: inter-cortical communication

I'm just catching up on this topic - so this is probably old news for you folks... But here it is anyway. In this SciAm…Continue

Tags: frontal_cortex, parietal_cortex, consciousness, intelligence

Started by Ian Carmichael Dec 30, 2008.

"Building a Bridge from Neuroscience to the Classroom" by Judy Willis in Phi Delta Kappan 2 Replies

"Building a Bridge from Neuroscience to the Classroom" by Judy Willis in Phi Delta Kappan is an excellent article about the current state of the field and its implications for the classroom and for…Continue

Tags: Willis, Phi+Delta+Kappan, brain-based+education, plasticity, neurogenesis

Started by Connie Weber. Last reply by Connie Weber Oct 27, 2008.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Connie Weber on December 21, 2011 at 1:21pm

Hi Karen,
Which pdf are you referring to? 
If you are trying to get to the Annenberg Learning site's course in Neuroscience and the Classroom, here is the link.  It's also posted in the discussion I put up about the course.

Comment by Karen Budde on December 21, 2011 at 11:48am

There are no links that work in the pdf.  Is there a separate list for thew videos?

Comment by John Jensen on April 13, 2011 at 9:46am
Ian-About the one-minute manager, I think the principle is that what matters is being precisely on target with your intervention, rather than having off-target ideas you repeat endlessly while thinking "This has GOT to connect eventually."  If you don't understand what really helps,you're always flailing.
Comment by Ian Carmichael on April 13, 2011 at 12:42am
Hello John - the 'stopwatch solution' sounds like the 'one minute manager'
Comment by John Jensen on April 12, 2011 at 10:37am

Call this "the stopwatch solution:" 

            A common-sense axiom is that if an action gets you what you want, you do it. And if doing more of it gets you more of what you want, then you do more of it. If running a step takes you closer to the end of a marathon, you keep running.

            In most human activities, however, different actions need to combine in optimal proportions, and to find the best ones we may need to examine the activity closely. They may be very different from what we intuitively prefer. Standing before a group we’re in charge of, we express ourselves naturally and easily. We enjoy directing and explaining, but how much of this should we do?  Is it proportioned to everything else needed?

            In classrooms, I seem to observe teachers operate like Generals going to war: Make all the plans you want, but after the first shot is fired, plans are suspended and you respond to the situation as you find it. A lesson plan may be bumped this way and that as a teacher detours on a “teachable moment,” or a discipline issue erupts, or students seem more dense this morning and aren’t getting it, or a school announcement chews up valuable minutes.  The preferred and the possible may diverge.

            Though we deal with the situation as we find it, what we aim at should remain steady.  We should have a sense of progression, understanding the basic form of what we’re trying to achieve—whether with more or with less time—so that each phase sets us up for the next.  It’s abundantly clear that we can waste a huge amount of time, but if we can waste it, we can also use it carefully. We can optimize each step for the combination that results in the most learning. Our mix of steps can energize, satisfy, advance continually, and result in a chunk of learning securely tucked away to become permanent. We need to grasp how all our actions combine into an adaptable approach with which we steadily use time efficiently to achieve solid learning.

             How might a stopwatch contribute to developing an ideal combination of activities?   

            1. Measure what you want to change.  Our big problem is habit. We follow our daily groove without realizing (until annual tests startle us) how we may be drifting off course—like swimming in the ocean and failing to notice currents carrying us quietly from our presumed location. External pressures and our own surges of optimism and energy can divert us, while hard data we ourselves supply can help correct our weak assumptions. Inexpensive kitchen timers are available that carry a stopwatch function as well. You can start timing an activity, pause it, and add more to it later to provide a precise daily total. More than one timer can be used to gather data for several different activities at once.

            One of the most elementary standards of investigation is to define a baseline. Identify what to measure which, if it changes, tells you that your intervention is working. The very idea of a baseline gives us something to work from. A fifth grade girl admitted to me that she held back from trying a particular activity because “I don’t have confidence.”  I explained to her the idea of just noticing first what was happening--when her confidence was low, when it was high, and what might account for either. A few days later I asked her how it was going. She said it wasn’t a problem any more.

            “I just decided to have confidence in myself,” she said with a big grin.  While we’d like all classroom changes to be as easy, with a stopwatch, you can obtain the hard data you may need in order to change your own thinking.

            2.  The stopwatch can help you teach your students perhaps the most basic principle of science.  Besides helping you improve instruction, a stopwatch can influence your students. It’s one thing to study terms and diagrams about scientific principles, but entirely another for students to use data to alter their own behavior. A fundamental preparation for scientific thinking you can give them is respect for valid data.  The principle takes on a different vitality when they discover they can obtain and apply valid data about their own actions and in doing so improve themselves. For you to improve yourself, what can you measure with precision?

            3.  Find out how much you talk.  Understand how important this is.  When you talk, students are obliged to listen. They can’t do anything else even if they already know what you’re saying. So you first nudge aside all other learning activities. But also, the one talking is the one exerting effort and hence learning the most, right? You’re the one learning when you talk (Remember, “You learn a subject by teaching it”), and when students talk, they are the ones learning. Your talk mainly offers them input, the material they must process to make their own. But what then?  Then they themselves need to talk.  They have to “output your input,” package it up with words in their vocabulary, associations in their network of meaning, links to what they already know.  Too often, however, teachers appear to assume that that if they just say it again, students are sure to get it this time. 

            Let me suggest instead that you estimate how much learning you could convey in an efficient ten-minute presentation, laying out a chunk students spend the remainder of the hour mastering. A crucial proportion is that the amount of time they need to assimilate what you explain must be many times over how long you spend presenting it. A four-to-one ratio is a good median to aim at but you can optimize the proportions for your class and material with hard data. The ideal quantity of your teacher talk, in other words, is determined by its optimal place within a sequence of actions.  If you talk more than ten minutes in a given hour, you probably interfere with time students need for assimilating what you present; or else you present too much, or you needlessly repeat yourself.  To say the least, if you discover that the amount of your own talk is greater than students’ total talk, you’re leagues away from ideal proportions.

            4.  Find out how much time students talk without help about what they know.  This measure is the bottom line, the outcome metric. Follow the numbers. If from every one of their roughly 900 class hours annually students learn one minute’s worth of new knowledge they can explain, this adds up to 900 minutes or fifteen hours of new learning. As you explain something and they can do so just like you do, they steadily deepen and expand their body of mastered knowledge. 

            The student talk you measure, however, needs to apply to each individually. It’s deceiving to ask a question that one student answers. If twenty are in the class, what happened to the practice-effort by the other nineteen?  Mainly, they coasted. Their talk isn’t lumped together where one can speak for all. They each must exert effort at forming and expressing an idea in order to claim it personally. Yet it’s extremely rare to find a classroom in which more than one student talks at a time for learning, although arranging this isn’t terribly complicated:  1) Lay out your material by question and answer. 2) Assign partners (my books below contain a way to pair everyone eventually with everyone). 3) Have them ask each other the questions all the way back to the beginning of the course so they master and retain everything learned to date.

            Once you’ve arranged the partner plan, time the total daily student-minutes talking.  If you pair up 20 students, at any time 10 can be answering questions the other asks. Doing this for 25 minutes, they accumulate 250 student-minutes after your initial 10 minutes of presentation.  With even a little experiment at this, you’ll find the ideal ratio—maybe 10 minutes presenting, another 5 answering questions, and then they’re off into their own practice of the material for 40 minutes.  Your 15 personal minutes can set up 400 of their personal minutes—an extremely efficient use of everyone’s time. . 

            5.  Find out how much they can talk about everything they know.  A simple but comprehensive K-12 curriculum is to divide the universe of knowledge into, say, fifty categories. Then in every lesson every year, just aim to increase their sustained knowledge in one or more category. Have them listen to and time each other on all they know, one category at a time, and maintain a cumulative record of their points of knowledge  (see “The Silver Bullet” book below for how to account for this in a comprehensive Academic Mastery Report). It excites students to notice that they’re growing in competence at an important task, and can measure exactly what they’ve accumulated in each subject. They typically want to do more of what they do well, can demonstrate to others, and can claim as their own.    

            6.  Post on wall charts the three measures above.  The first one is your own self-report: how many minutes you talk plotted as a daily total.  Explain why—that you want to reduce the amount of time you talk so they have more time to practice explaining the material. The second chart (their names down the side, dates across the top) gives them a place to record the measured time each day that they talk in answering questions or explaining the subject matter.  On the third chart, acetate covered so they can continually update their score (names down the side and here categories of knowledge across the top), they record the total amount of explainable learning they have for each category.  They maintain everything they learned in prior classes for current and prior years, and just continue expanding their total body of knowledge. 

            Model for them what it means to check oneself with hard data, and then to draw from it an insight enabling them to improve what they do.


            John Jensen is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of uThe Silver Bullet Easy Learning System: How to Change Classrooms Fast and Energize Students for Success (Xlibris, 2008), and of Practice Makes Perfect: How to Rescue Education One Classroom at a Time, published elsewhere on this site.  He welcomes comments sent to him directly at, and will email an ebook version of the two titles above to anyone without charge upon request.




Comment by Ian Carmichael on August 5, 2010 at 10:00pm
I'm partway through Eric Kandel's In Search of Memory. A fascinating intellectual biography through the whole history of neuroscience - from Freud to... well, Kandel. He treats us to small bigoraphies of wonderful scientists and their 'situated' discoveries. And he does it in a warm, comprehensible style, with clear explanatory power. A useful subtext is the 'accidental' way he found his research path - from psychoanalysis to neuroscience. A very useful book for a reading youngster wondering about their first career path! (And for members of this group, and any lover of great science writing and biography.)
Comment by Ann Brainard Simone on June 15, 2008 at 4:41am
I'm really interested to read this book and its research. I attended a session at a conference one time about the areas of the brain being used during reading. In normal children, one area of the brain was highlighted, so the information was taking a direct route. (This is my layman's recollection and interpretation of the information.) In children with reading difficulties the information was being routed around to various areas, from one area to the next and then back again. Of course, this is what causes these students to have slow processing speed, as well as other difficulties. Will try to find out more specifics about this research.
Comment by Maria on June 13, 2008 at 12:48pm
I recently began a book called "This Is Your Brain On Music; The Science of Human Obsession" by Daniel J. Leviitin.
I don't know if it fitting for this discussion, but it absolutely discusses the neurological and psychological impact that music has on the human condition. The reason I picked up the book to begin with is becasue I am a person who always has some kind of music on the CD player in my classroom from Mozart to Norah Jones and World Music. I find kids fall into a rythm when working, and so do I. We change the music as our moods change, and we all have our preferences. I used music with thinking routines (Listening 10x2) also. There was one particular student who had so many attention issues, and surprisingly (for me) I noticed he became increasingly more attentive to tasks when certain CD's were in (particularly female voices!). Anyway, the book makes many connections to the neurological impact on emotions that music produces, and the effect on receptors. Very interesting!
Comment by Ellen Pham on May 30, 2008 at 12:40am
The pic for this group is so beautiful, I just had to join :) And, I really want to get myself reading more about the neuroscience of learning! I will start with Wolf's book, Skip. The discussions in this group might take awhile to form, but I am really looking forward to having this sweet group to discuss these ideas with.
Comment by Anna Billings on April 14, 2008 at 2:33pm
Fantastic! I was just thinking about this as a great topic for Fireside. Just attended a one day seminar/conference on neuroscience and human relationships. I have some books to recommend, too. Thanks for starting the group.

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