Breaking Down the Brain: the Learning Process Simplified
Knowledge retention is key in both corporate training and education. Learners need to remember learning content so that they can accurately apply it in real-life instances. So when we set out to create the amplifire software, thoroughly understanding how the brain stores information in memory was imperative.
At its most basic level, there are four stages of memory critical to the learning process.
- 1. Encoding: this is transformation of phenomenon in the environment (sights, sounds, etc.) into material that the brain can understand. This is essentially a translation process in which the brain creates a memory of something in relation to what it already knows.
- 2. Storage: there are two different types of memory storage, short-term and long-term. Long-term memory occurs when neuron pathways are established in order to store information that can be recalled later. Short-term memory does not establish their neural networks and is believed to be housed primarily in the pre-frontal lobe.
- 3. Retrieval: there are four different kinds of memory retrieval
- • Recall allows a person to retrieve information unprompted. This can be tested using fill-in-the-blank style questions
- • Recollection uses logical reconstruction to piece together different pieces of information. Essay questions test this kind of retrieval
- • Recognition occurs as a result of “re-experiencing” the information. This can be tested using multiple-choice questions
- • Relearning is a rehearsal of previously learned information to strengthen retrieval.
- 4. Forgetting: this often annoying process is a fundamental part of the brain’s functioning that allows less important information to fall away so that more important information can be retrieved more easily. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization has shown that the brain forgets information at a rate of 1 bit per second per neuron.
- While the biochemical and psychological processes underlying each of these four stages are robust and complex, this basic framework is critical for considering how our brains learn and remember.
- Want to learn more?
- Click here for a more in-depth explanation of the different functions of the brain or register for our memory 101 white paper.
Daniel Schacter: Expert on Remembering and Forgetting
Joining Dr. Robert Bjork on Knowledge Factor’s Scientific Advisory Board is Dr. Daniel Schacter, a William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Schacter is an esteemed researcher in the field of brain science who has focused on the psychological and biological aspects of human memory. He uses cognitive testing and brain imaging techniques in order to study the effects of aging on memory, the distinction between conscious and non-conscious forms of memory and memory distortion.
Of Schacter’s eight books, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers has perhaps had the broadest impact. Schacter outlines seven different ways that a person’s memory can fail and methods for counteracting this process. David Williams of The Seattle Times described it as “clear, entertaining, and provocative . . . This book encourages a new appreciation of the complexity and fragility of memory and how it affects our daily lives.”
Additionally, Schacter runs the Schacter Memory Lab for graduate and post-doctoral students dedicated to continuing Schacter’s work of gaining a fuller understanding of the nature and function of the human memory.
Click here to see Schacter’s interview with Charlie Rose discussing The Seven Sins.
Are Two (or Three or Four) Heads Better Than One?
The conversation surrounding education reform is not a simple one.
One frequent talking point is the issue of class size. With education funding being cut around the country, class sizes are continuing to grow, but how big is too big? And how can we ensure that our students are getting enough attention from their teachers? In fact, overcrowded classrooms have become a common problem in many public schools. So what is the solution?
The traditional response has been that smaller class sizes and more teachers are the answer, as this will allow students to work more directly with instructors. But given the lack of funding in education, this solution may not be the most practical.
That’s where Sugata Mitra’s work comes in. As an education scientist, Mitra addresses this same issue on an even more dramatic level. Mitra has studied the absence of good teachers and schools in the areas where that are needed most (rural, poor parts of developing countries) and has come up with a startlingly simple solution – a combination of technology and student collaboration.
Many education advocates have argued the students must have more contact with teachers in order to improve. But Mitra’s experiments have shown that student collaboration can lead to greater learning and a longer retention rate. In his study in Gateshead (see 10:10), students’ scores on a particular test actually improved over time because of ongoing conversation among the students and the students’ continued research after they had completed the test.
The problems facing American students and students in impoverished New Delhi are obviously quite different. But the underlying principle is the same.
Student collaboration will probably never be able to fully replace good instruction from a teacher. However, in educational settings where the only resource was a computer, students were able to work together to teach each other and themselves. So in Western countries with much greater resources, how is it that we fail to maximize what we have?
For some students, private instruction may offer the only viable solution. But for others, Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiment may have found the answer. And that might simply be talking to the person next to you.
Getting to Know Dr. Robert Bjork
Knowledge Factor is proud to announce that Dr. Robert Bjork will chair our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB)– a committee comprised of cognitive psychologists, physicians and gaming researchers and charged with continually advancing the science supporting our amplifire learning software.
Bjork, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, has spent his career researching how the brain learns and forgets. In fact, he and his wife Elizabeth (another member of our SAB) run the prestigious Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA.
Bjork’s research has revolutionized the understanding of the brain’s cognitive processes. By synthesizing a variety of studies on the process of forgetting, the testing effects in learning and metacognition, Bjork has helped to create an understanding of the process of forgetting that seems counterintuitive but is now widely accepted; that forgetting is actually an important brain process as an adaptive function that leads to a better foundation for learning.
Thanks to Bjork’s work, we now have a better understanding of the brain’s learning functions.
Knowledge Factor has taken many of Bjork’s findings and engineered them into our amplifire learning platform. amplifire is based on findings from Bjork and other scientific leaders, so it’s optimized to deliver content in ways that (as this science demonstrates) are most impactful for learning.
Click here to learn more about Dr. Bjork’s work and hear him speak about how we learn.
Education at Every Age: The Broad Applicability of Online Learning
Online learning is becoming more ubiquitous in today’s increasingly tech-savvy society. As this platform becomes more sophisticated and more tailored to the user’s needs, different applications for a virtual learning environment have started to appear. Here are just a few ways that online learning is being used today.
Elite Private Colleges
While an online college education is nothing new, the presence of top-tier universities in the realm of digital learning is something that has only recently been introduced. MIT offered its first free online course this past spring and other prestigious universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have begun to do the same. These online courses have provided students with access to some of the world’s best professors directly from their home.
What is interesting to note is that these classes do not offer any college credit but they have nonetheless found a large following online, creating an environment centered around learning that is free from the constraints and incentives of the education system. However, some professors fear that online classes will begin to supplant the traditional university experience, a community of students and academics that cannot be replicated online. “It's going to transform the work of professors,” said William Tierney, a professor at the University of Southern California, in an interview with Yahoo! in August 2012. “I don’t think you can just dismiss this.”
At the Vallejo City United School District Adult School in California, online learning has given its students the chance to get back on track. The implementation of an online learning platform allowed the district to help its students recover 900 high school credits, helping them graduate or refocus their efforts to earn their degree. The number of classes recovered this year represents a 25% increase over last year and has given the school district an effective way to keep at-risk students on pace to graduate, despite a serious lack of resources. Online learning has been particularly effective because of its ability to tailor a course to a particular student’s needs, reducing and maximizing study time.
K-12 School System
Some schools have chosen to introduce online learning at a much younger age. KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles is one example the use of online learning at an elementary school level. Before introducing a blended learning program, using online learning and classroom learning together, 36 percent of the KIPP Empower Academy’s kindergartners were reading at a proficient or advanced level. The number went up to 96 percent after the implementation of supplementary online learning.
The basic principle is that blended learning curriculums have created greater efficiency, allowing each student to work at his own pace and giving teachers the opportunity to spend their time working individually with students, rather than teaching concepts to a group of students, all of whom are learning at different rates.
Brain Science News Roundup
Below is this week’s brain science round-up – a gathering of new and interesting articles regarding advancements in understanding how our brains learn, remember and function:
New research sheds light on stem cells in the brain that are connected to neurons in the upper layers of the cerebral cortex, the center of higher thinking.: http://esciencenews.com/articles/2012/08/09/neuroscientists.find.brain.stem.cells.may.be.responsible.higher.functions.bigger.brains
Interpersonal learning: how thinking about what other people are thinking leads to brain development: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248867.php
What can brain science do for the struggling student? Northwestern University’s Dr. Martha S. Burns talks about a new approach to learning and teaching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahSYwchh-QM
Recent studies show that learning is more about when something is learned and studied, rather than how it is learned: http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2012/02/24/how-the-brain-learns
What day of the week was May 25, 1977? For people with “superior autobiographical” memories, this question is simple. New research attempts to link this uncanny ability to remember with the caudate area in the brain: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/08/20/158779474/why-can-some-people-recall-every-day-of-their-lives-brain-scans-offer-clues
Dr. Janet Zadina talks about the revolutionary impact that brain research could have on education: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lzjo5swMmE&feature=relmfu
Solving the American Education Problem
U.S. students are falling behind their international counterparts.
The case is particularly true when you compare U.S. students with students in Eastern Asia and Europe. In fact, in 2011, the U.S. ranked 32nd in math, 23rd in science and 17th in reading, falling behind its position in 2010, ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.
Who’s ranking ahead of us? You might be surprised to learn that Finland tops the list.
The Finnish Answer – Is less more?
The key to success in the Finnish education system is that less is more—fewer standardized tests, shorter school days and less homework. Sounds too easy, right?
Maybe, but that’s by design too.
Finnish teachers use their own evaluations to gauge their students’ progress and at every level of the education system, teaching is an integral part of learning, for teachers and students alike. In a less pressurized environment, students are able to participate in learning that is cooperative, not competitive, building an environment of mutual support that better fosters learning, particularly collective learning in a classroom setting.
But here’s the ironic part - the Finnish education system succeeds based on an approach that is quintessentially American. An article from January 2012 published in Crossroads Times quoted Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish Director General at the Ministry of Education, discussing the primary motivator behind the country’s original approach to schooling:
“Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location,” Sahlberg said.
In Finland, schools are 100 percent publicly funded, reducing significantly the disparity between schools. Quite simply, social equality in and created by education is at the crux of Finnish success.
So what can we do to cut out the inherent inequality in the public/private system in the United States, and experience the same success as the Finns?
The U.S. Solution
We should start with what we do best – good, old American innovation in the form of technology.
Technology has become an increasingly integral part of education and it can also become an important equalizer. As technology gains a greater foothold in U.S. schools, online learning can create an environment that is tailored to the needs of the students. In fact, recent research in the areas of neurobiology and cognitive psychology is changing the way that we think about education and enabling technology providers to deliver learning platforms optimized for the way the brain learns best.
These innovations are poised to help our education system become less arduous, more intuitive and more enjoyable, engaging students on a deeper level and creating greater equality among them by allowing students to work at their own pace and ensuring that they have mastered the material before moving on.
Want to know where amplifire comes in? Check out our video below to learn more about the newest development in online learning.
eLearning trend #1: Innovating Education
Multiple studies indicate that U.S. students are falling behind other countries like South Korea and China. Additionally, a recent Harvard Business School study surveyed over 10,000 Harvard alumni and revealed that 71% of the 10,000 former Harvard Business School alumni feel that America is losing its competitive edge. While there were many reasons as to why this nation is becoming less competitive, one prominent answer was education. Ann Shadwick, a retired NEA delegate in the recent Education International (EI) World Congress, put it best by saying, “We need to do some creative thinking, as a union, and take the initiative in developing 21st century standards and teaching in our colleges and universities.”
One place to start is eLearning.
2012 eLearning trends – You spoke, we listened
According to ASTD’s 2011 State of the Industry Report, organizations are investing more in learning and development per employee than ever before and businesses plan on "increased use of technology to design, deliver and manage learning and development".
This report highlights a fact we practitioners already know: eLearning is becoming a more critical component to how we educate and train in this country. But eLearning encompasses a broad scope –everything from web applications to social media to mobile learning fits in the "eLearning" bucket. That's why we wanted to know what you – our partners and friends in the industry – see as the most prominent eLearning trends on the horizon for 2012.
We asked our followers on Twitter and LinkedIn to tell us "What important changes and trends in eLearning can we expect in 2012"? After combing through your answers, consulting annual reviews from associations like ASTD, and evaluating the latest findings and articles that have been published about eLearning, we have landed on the top trends and changes we expect to see in 2012:
1. Innovating Education
2. eLearning that is conducive to adaptive learning environments
3. Go mobile
4. Gaming and eLearning unite
5. Integration of Social Learning
Stay tuned. Throughout the next 5 weeks we will give further explanation of each of these trends because, as the world of eLearning moves forward, it is imperative to stay on top of advancements and ensure that they are capitalizing on the benefits of new and innovative learning tools.
The Role Emotions Play in Learning... what’s love got to do with it?
It's Valentine's Day. Behind the heart shaped stickers, chocolates, and bouquets of roses lies the true reason today is celebrated: humans are emotional creatures. Now, we’re not just talking the mushy emotions that are commonly associated with Valentine's Day; we're talking about the higher level of emotional intelligence that humans possess. For example, humans are highly social creatures: we are receptive of one another's facial gestures and subliminal messages given through body language, and are one of the only species known to mourn the loss of a loved one. So whether you're a fan of Valentine's Day or not, you have to appreciate the role emotions play in every aspect of our day to day lives—including the way we learn. In fact, the role emotions play in learning is so great that we can actually use emotional intelligence to improve the performance, retention, and speed with which you, your students, or your employees learn.
The article "Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence" published in the Annual Review of Psychology states that individuals that receive positive emotional feedback are generally more confident, are perceived more positively by others, and can maintain intimate and close relationships with others. In turn, these individuals have better physiological well being and have better achievement academically and in the work environment. So, even though as a boss or teacher you cannot control home life, by creating a positive learning environment the performance of your learners can skyrocket.
So pass out those valentines and generate those positive feelings, if not for the sake of St. Valentine, do it for the sake of learning.