Friday, September 2, 2011

The Science of Learning

My niece is learning algebra and she will be the first to admit that it’s hard for her to learn mathematical concepts. She is currently studying the logical properties of equality…don’t ask.

When she learns them, she will change her brain.

The brain has a mechanism to transfer short term memories (if a=b and b=c then a=c) into long term memory. It’s called consolidation. Consolidation requires time between learning sessions. Learners need that time to reprocess information.  

Sleep helps with consolidation. When a person sleeps, there is a change in the overall pattern of brain activity. Things happen during sleep that play a critical role in learning. When we are sleep deprived, consolidation is disrupted. Stress also disrupts consolidation; it shuts down nonessential systems in the body and brain - some of which are related to memory and learning.

My advice for my niece?

                     It is best to divide studying in sessions so the brain has time to consolidate.
                     Get enough sleep!
                     A technique called “priming” can be used when you need to pay attention to certain information. For instance, if you are reading a chapter that has study questions in the back, read those first (even though you don’t know the answers), then after you read the chapter, you are more likely to remember the answers to those questions.

That’s my advice for anyone learning – be it algebra, a new software for your computer at work, a new technique for completing a task or anything else.


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