Learning Is Complex; What Do We Know So Far?

Learning Is Complex; What Do We Know So Far?

The science of learning, discovering how people learn, as opposed to the philosophy of learning and education that goes back to Egyptian times, can be sheeted back to around the tenth-century. However, it is only recently that advances in neuroscience and the capacity to investigate the functioning of the brain have really enabled us to see what happens when we learn. In the past ten years our understanding has risen exponentially.

Commonly used definitions of learning have failed to keep pace with these advances in neuroscience and appear to be rather outmoded (Hase, 2010). Learning is often referred to as knowledge being gained through study, instruction or scholarship or the act of gaining knowledge. Many accepted psychological definitions refer to learning as being the result of any change in behaviour that results from experience. Discussions about learning mostly concern the education process rather than what happens in the brain of the learner – where learning really takes place.

It’s important to establish at this point that we are not attempting a neurological reductionist explanation of learning. Clearly learning is a complex interaction of myriad influences including genes, neurophysiology, physical state, social experience and psychological factors.

However, we suggest that understanding what is happening in the brain when we learn might provide important new insights into what is happening to the learner in the education or training experience. When we learn something, networks of neurons are established that can later be accessed, what we call memory (e.g. Benfenati, 2007). Laying down larger and larger...(continue reading)

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