“The more we build these networks and enrich our stores of memory and experience, the easier it is to learn, because what we already know serves as a foundation for forming increasingly complex thoughts.” ― John J. Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
As students we are all but too familiar with school teachers and/or university/college professors who knew their subject matter well, but their teaching skills or methodologies largely lacked. Staying awake in their classes/lectures required massive effort (or lots of coffee). They were never trained to develop the skillset of engagement strategies. Changes in society, technology and pedagogy caused the curriculum in schools to change. As computer technology became an asset in classrooms, schools of education appropriately included the instruction thereof in the curriculum. Research in the field of neuroscience in education has proved to be an invaluable asset to the classroom. With research to back it up, the time has arrived to make the Neuroscience of Learning, as a specialized field, a necessary part of professional teacher education.
The Need for Neuroscience in a Rapidly Changing World
The world is changing rapidly – change has become the norm. The 21st century demands a necessary skillset not previously needed. For today’s students and learners, teachers are the lifeline they need to access the opportunities the 21st century offers. There is a new breed of teachers and educators who differentiate themselves from others during these turbulent, yet exhilarating times. They are the educators that have the motivation and drive to arm themselves with knowledge on how the brain thinks, functions and learns, and apply that knowledge in their education practice. They become change agents that help students extend their own knowledge on how their brain works, unlock their brain potential, regardless of previous performance, to reach their highest potential by bridging the achievement gap. One example is that educators can help learners change their brains and per implication, intelligence, by understanding and explaining the neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) of the brain. Educators who do not understand the implications of neuroplasticity as profit and gain for their students, are at great risk of loss: not unlocking and utilising their learner’s full potential.
Beyond understanding the brain’s neuroplastic response to stimulation and how activation and use of neural networks makes them stronger, teachers need to recognise how stress inhibits neuroplasticity. Stress, which is a reality to everybody, and even more so in the field of education because of information overload, has the ability to cause learners to lose control over certain brain regions, which places them at risk for not performing as well as they can. It is only when information is processed in the brain’s reflective, cognitive prefrontal cortex that new learning can be incorporated into networks of long-term, conceptual memory. For that to happen, students and educators alike need to have accurate understanding of their own unique neurological design and the drivers that impact their brain performance. The neuroscience of how the brain thinks, learns, processes information and what influences the most successful brain acquisition and application of learning, should be included in all teacher/lecturer development programs. The understanding, application and implementation with regards to the neuroscience of learning should be a prerequisite as foundational knowledge. Not only will it increase the effectiveness of learning transfer and enhance and sustain the joy element of learning, but it will also assist them in recognising future implications within the expanding field of neuroscience. The professional development curriculums of teachers, lecturers and any learning facilitator needs to prepare them with the knowledge and skills to equip their future students for the game-changing realities of globalisation. There should be core mandatory standards that equips them to prepare students with the thinking skills already sought by employers for the future.
These challenges and changes are eminent and applies to the current school generation, according to a recent report published by the World Economic Forum entitled: The Future of Jobs. The report states that the forth industrial revolution is on its way. It will cause widespread disruption to business models and labour markets over the next five years. An enormous change in the most desirable skills to thrive in the job market is predicted. The table below illustrates the top 10 most wanted skills in 2015 and most needed skills in 2020:
1. Complex problem solving
2. Critical thinking
4. People management
5. Co-ordinating with others
6. Emotional intelligence
7. Judgement and decision making
8. Service orientation
10. Cognitive flexibility
1.Complex problem solving
2.Co-ordinating with others
8.Judgment and decision making
Apart from the global realities as mentioned above, important neuroscience topics in the curriculum of any facilitator of learning should also include how the brain “pays attention”, encodes new input into working memory, uses neuroplasticity to construct long-term memory, is influenced by stress, and develops its neural networks of executive functions.
The highest cognitive skillset of the brain is the vast potential that neuroplasticity holds – the ability to develop and improve student’s neural networks. Not only do educators need to be aware of this, but they need to play an active, constructive role in implementing the harnessing power of this knowledge during the learning process – it needs to be entrenched in the fibre of the learning content and the transfer thereof.
Teachers and lecturers play a pivotal role during the time when student’s brains go through the most extensive changes. They have the privilege to influence student’s habitual way of thinking (the neuron pathways) that determines what mind-sets are formed. It may alter a student’s life’s path in such a way that they leave school appropriately prepared for an exciting but challenging future, with brain-based skills that impact all spheres of life.
The practical outflow of the neuroscience of learning into particular subjects may need attention, but there are more than enough resources available to assist teachers and lecturers. It does however require a mind-set change, but the pay-off is profound.
“Neuroscience proves that the brain has unlimited learning potential. Therefore, there is no limit to what people can become. Companies and educational institutions are the sum total of the collective brain power of their people, so there is also no limit to what and who companies/schools can be if they continuously invest into the learning potential and competence of their workforce/teachers” says Dr. Andre Vermeulen, CEO of Neuro-Link, a company that specialises in the neuroscience of workplace learning”
- It brings to bear findings from hard sciences such as physiology, chemistry etc.
- It is inclusive of all cultures, races, genders and generations.
- It complements behavioural sciences and integrates easily with different learning technologies.
Neuroscience of learning fundamentals:
There are certain fundamental premises of the neuroscience of learning that are essential for any educator who really wants to understand the potential of the brain and how to optimise performance:
All learners, facilitators or practitioners engaged in the field of learning, responsible for preparing children, students and workers for developing the skills necessary to prosper in the new landscape predicted for 2020 will be well-served to have a clearer understanding of issues such as:
- The bio-chemistry of learning and thinking
- Neuroplasticity and cognitive flexibility
- How the brain works and processes information
- Learning implications of the different brain areas
- How to identify and improve the drivers that optimize brain performance
- How to determine people’s unique neuro-design and learning potential
- How to prepare the brain for learning, thinking and creativity
- How to activate the brain for learning
- How to improve brain fitness
- How to maintain brain health
- Advanced visual skills for 21st century workers who processes volumes of information
- How to develop complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and memory skills for 21st century workers
- How a person’s neuro-design impacts health and safety in the workplace
- How a person’s neuro-design impacts their sense of purpose, engagement and performance
Therefore, any person who is responsible for the learning and development of another should strengthen his/her understanding of the neuroscience of learning and apply this evidence-based knowledge to their practice of human capital development.
Effective and successful teachers, lecturers and students have accurate awareness of their learning preferences. They manage their neuro-design and the drivers that optimize it, so they can get what they want and become who they can be.
It is inconceivable that those responsible for preparation our future teachers and lecturers, will not use and apply the latest research in the science of learning to their practice. We can’t prepare learners with tools that was relevant decades ago for the future. It will be like trying to conquer the Antarctic barefoot…..Research in the field of neuroscience is ever continuing and rapidly expanding. Imagine graduates having a relevant, cutting edge and foundational knowledge of learning and the application and implementation thereof during learning transfer. Application of this expanding science can only contribute to developing people’s potential and empowering them for an exciting and fulfilled future. The neuroscience of learning certainly provides exciting and fascinating opportunities for the evolution of 21st century education.