Brain-Compatible Learning Environments: What Are the Advantages?

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Brain-based learning started in the 1970s as a means to understand the interworking’s of the brain and how this would aid in education. This paper will review the advantages of brain-compatible learning environments by first discussing what brain-based learning consist of, the relationship between the brain and student learning, the advantages of brain-compatible learning environments, how these environments can be implemented, brain-compatible teaching methods and how we can measure the success of brain-based learning. “Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies, and principles. Brain-based education is the engagement of strategies based on principles derived from an understanding of the brain.” (Jensen, 2008) Brain-based learning focuses on how the brain can best learn the content being taught. Brain-based learning recognizes that the brain does not learn in a linear fashion like how must schools are structured today. A brain based learning environment focuses on social connections and motivation to encourage learning. Students learn best when presented with challenges and are encouraged to come to conclusions on their own regarding the content being taught. Not everyone learns as the same pace and brain-based learning environments must accommodate for this by incorporating techniques that allow for non-linear learning. How we learn is complex and no two brains learn the same way, however there is a basic learning process all brains follow. Input is received through the thalamus while at the same time being sent to other processing areas (e.g. visuals to occipital lobe and language to the temporal lobe), this allows for immediate action if the information is urgent and is perceived as a threatening situation. The brain creates a quick interpretation of the data it takes in; if the data is interpreted as threatening the amygdala is triggered which then engages the sympathetic nervous system. Non-threatening data is held in the frontal lobe for five to twenty seconds, during this time it is filtered; non-essential data is purged from memory, while meaningful data is sent to the hippocampus. In the hippocampus it is organized, indexed and eventually stored in the cortex long term. The brain is instinctively wired to remember the facts surrounding survival, things such as where to find food, who our closest relatives are, how to defend ourselves, how to make tools, how to take care of our children, what gives us pleasure, what gives us pain, distinctive aromas and tastes are all facts we instinctively remember. On the other hand, “word-based, names, equations, vocabulary and facts are not the types of memories that we are “automatically good at remembering” (Hileman, 2006) So merging the things we are good at remembering with the things we want our students to learn is a basic technique of brain-based learning. An example of this would be using smells or emotions to help remember key facts. Another brain-based learning technique is timing, “our brain cycles through attentional highs and lows every 90 to 110 minutes” (Hileman, 2006) As a result we must space activities, lectures and assessments throughout the class periods to coincide with this cycle, this may be challenging in environments that are structured in shorter periods but not impossible. Repetition is another brain-based learning technique. When material is repeated connections are strengthened in the brain. We must be careful though as there is a fine balance between repeating a technique to aid in retention and being so repetitive that the learner becomes bored and no longer receptive to the material. Movement is also a brain-based learning technique that increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain thus enhancing and stimulating learning. Visuals can also increase learning, “between 80 and 90 percent of all information that is absorbed by our brain is visual” (Jensen, 2008) Our brains are designed to...
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