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How we Learn and why is it important – Part 2

This post follows the Part 1 on How we learn

Shouldn’t we examine learning through investigating the organ in our body that is mostly responsible for learning to happen?  Yes, I’m referring to the brain!

Our brain has about 86 billion neurons (as the number of stars in our milky lane). The neuron, the biological cell is responsible for our learning through connections that it makes to other neurons as we learn new information.

As we learn something new we link neurons together, the more we retrieve and practice what we learnt the stronger the neural links are. The more we extend our learning into other areas, the more neurons are added to the network of neural links.

Our long-term memory is stored in our Neocortex, a thin layer over the surface of our brain. It is the size of a napkin and can store quadrillion bites of information (that’s a LOT!) more information can be stored in our brain than the number of grain sands on earth. So how come we are not all walking geniuses? The problem is not with the storage but with the retrieving of the information.

Understanding the brain and how it is connected to learning in the way we store information and retrieve it, will make teachers and students work collaboratively better.

For example; We can all identify with test anxiety and arriving to exams after (we thought we studied well for) and we get completely blank! A research conducted in various countries found that students mostly learn for exams through re-reading the material. This type of learning can get us into the false pretense that we learnt well but its actually not the case. In order for us to come ready for an exam (or even a presentation at work) we need to be able to retrieve the information from our long-term memory. To do so, studying for an exam requires a long-term practice of retrieval of the information to build and strengthen the sets of neural links. The more we practice the better we become. Just as we know that when we prepare for a sports competition we need to build our muscles and practice daily so our brains need practice to gain the knowledge that can be retrieved when needed. Retrieval practice is not memorization; it is self-testing, teaching others, practice exams. Anything that requires us to actively work the problems ourselves to be able to master it.

Think of how this information can be implemented either in your teaching (if you are a teacher) or in your learning (as a student or avid learner). I highly recommend reading the book Uncommon sense of teaching or taking their Coursera (free) course to gain further insight.

My next post will be about slower and faster learners! Do fast learners do better in life?… not necessarily

From the desk of a digital immigrant diary

When working with teachers in rural areas, township schools or private schools we often reflect on best practices in teaching and how do we get it across the schools. As well as best Math system, the role of resources in Science, Technology and Mathematics, integration of the subject of Technology ensuring it aligned to the SA curriculum, all these issues and others arise when evaluating our projects. Reading Mark Prensky article about the students of today and how fundamentally they are different from the students of the past raise serious questions in our knowledge about “how kids learn”.

 Mark Prency in his article “Digital Natives, Digital immigrants” has defined today’s students – K through college – as “Digital Natives” – who were born and grown with digital technologies Todays average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives” this leads to students who THINK AND PROCESS INFORMATION DIFFERENTLY!
This leaves the rest of us as the “Digital Immigrant”, those who were not born into the digital world and have adopted many of the new technologies on a later stage.

I recommend you read the article (click the links above) as this article calls on educators to shift old methods and find ways to communicate in the language and style of their students.

In my blog I am hoping to share my experiences and learning as we work with teachers to find “new ways to do the old staff”.

As English is my second language, I am used to carry an accent,  I sure do expect that while I try and adopt the new “digitally” language I will bear an accent as well, but for that I have my daughters or my “digital natives” to help me out. (I just hope they will have the patience for me…)