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science of learning

7 Interesting Facts About the Science of Learning

By Alicia Beharry
Published on June 1, 2021

Having a good understanding of our brain’s abilities, functioning and limitations allows us to improve our productivity and learning skills. Perhaps, the brain is the most mysterious of our organs and we are still a long way from understanding everything about it.

In the past few decades, researchers have made a ton of really important breakthroughs, especially when it comes to learning. We now have a better understanding of how individuals learn, remember, organize and retrieve information.

Let’s explore some of the most significant breakthroughs that researchers have made on the science of learning and provide you with some valuable insight on how to make the best use of your brain without wasting energy.

1) Emotions influence our ability to learn

Our ability to learn is affected by a number of things, one of them being how we feel. Research has shown that our emotions affect everything from how we perceive information, how we pay attention, how we remember information and how we solve problems.

Feeling stressed, anxious, fearful or ashamed are the worst emotional states for learning. The limbic system is activated by these emotions. When the limbic system is activated it interferes with how memory is generated. This is why it is very important to create a safe and stress-free online learning environment. If your learners are relaxed it will help them learn and retain information better.

2) Social interaction is good for learning

Some learners may prefer to quietly learn by themselves whereas others may learn much better when the learning is done through social interaction. Having learners collaborate with each other usually leads to much better learning outcomes. Brain imaging studies have shown when information is presented by other people in a multi-sensory way, neuroimages show a number of neural networks functioning together simultaneously. Research has also reflected that we learn information effectively through social cues such as recalling the words of others and by emulating their actions.

3) More information doesn’t always mean more learning

When processing information, the brain has to do work to understand. Because of this you should not present large amounts of information to your learners and expect there to be an increase in learning. The point at which a person’s brain becomes overwhelmed by new information is referred to as “cognitive overload”, by brain scientists. When there is too much new information all at once, it results in cognitive overload and will ultimately reduce learning.

Two main ways to avoid cognitive overload are:

  • The quantitative method: Provide less new information. Allow your learners to understand most of what they are currently learning before presenting them with new information.
  • The qualitative method: Switch up your presentation methods so that it is less overwhelming.

4) Making mistakes are an essential part of learning

When learning something new, no one usually aims for failure. Generally, it’s something we want to avoid. Without a doubt, you would want all your learners to successfully complete their online courses or training content.

However, the science of learning shows us that making mistakes is actually an essential part of learning. For example, the first time we get on a bike we don’t all learn to ride right away, we get better by practicing. Making mistakes is essential to the learning process and it also applies to academic learning.

If individuals are being pressured to succeed it may inhibit learning. Research has shown that some students learn and perform better when they are told failure is a normal and expected part of learning. This may be because feeling less pressure leads to better performance.

Additionally, when errors are emphasized, learners will usually focus more on those errors rather than what they should be learning.

5) The brain requires novelty

When your learners are exceptionally bored it impacts their ability to learn by killing their attention span and willpower. Some instructors feel that by being repetitive with learning material students will grasp concepts easier, after all “practice makes perfect”. It actually turns out what the brain really craves is novelty.

Novelty is the state of being exposed to new ideas, experiences, and things. When we are in this state it releases dopamine, a neurochemical, that is part of the pleasure center in our brains. Dopamine actually plays a huge role in the motivation for learning.

When the receptors are activated when we are learning, it gives us a rewarding feeling. Practicing new things we have learned will definitely help us be progressive, but doing that same practice in new ways can help us improve learning outcomes and success. 

6) Learning happens best through teaching others

Teaching others something you have learned is one of the most effective study methods. In fact there is a highly effective study technique designed on this principle, called the Feynman Technique. This technique proposes when learning a new skill or studying for an exam, learners write about their topic as if they were teaching someone else, even a child.

The concept of figuring out how to explain something complex, briefly using non-jargon language helps consolidate the learning that is already there and it will help identify any knowledge gaps. 

7) Our brain functions on the “use it or lose it” principle 

Our brains are constantly building and reconditioning neural pathways. The pathways that are used the most usually get well-established and stronger. The pathways that are not used get built over.

This is the reason a language you have learned isn’t as fluid when you do not use it or why it may take you a while to work out a math equation you have not done in a while. When it comes to the brain, the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, definitely applies.

A good concept to utilize is spaced repetition. The idea to space out learning and repeat something just before you would have forgotten it, is a great way to optimize learning and remembering.

Understanding your learners is one of the most important ways to ensure your online training courses are effective. Building on the principles of learning will keep you focused on what activities will enhance the online learning experience and what may not have much effect.

SkyPrep is a particularly effective tool for learning. To learn more, request a call and one of our specialists will be with you shortly.   

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