link: brain-based learning

 

                 LEARNING WITH THE BRAIN'S RULES: 'BRAIN-BASED LEARNING'

theme: The new paradigm of wholistic education emphasizes character development which is based on intrinsically motivated learning... 'experiential learning' or 'brain-based learning'.  

"Is there some sense in which principles of pedagogy can be derived from our knowledge of man as a species - from knowledge of his characteristic growth and dependence, of the properties of his nervous system, of his modes of dealing with culture?" (Jerome Bruner, 1971, Relevance of Education New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. 118) (see Mind/Brain Learning Principles by R.Caine  http://www.newhorizons.org/caine.htm)

The function of the brain as 'meaning maker' required for effective adaptation... The human organism is a social organism which depends for survival on the ability to adapt to the complexities of rapidly changing social conditions. Human adaptability depends on the specialized capacity of the human brain to make meaning of experience or 'learn'. "Every living creature, while it is awake, is in constant interaction with its surroundings. It is engaged in a process of give and take - of doing something to objects around it and receiving back something from them - impressions, stimuli. This process of interacting constitutes the framework of experience." (John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company 1933 p.36)

Perception of the whole or 'holistic perception' is a requirement for human adaptability The brain  responds automatically to the complexities of the environment in its attempt to integrate the various stimuli in order to produce effective thinking, correct evaluation and adaptive behaviour which is required for 'behavioural adaptation' or 'adaptability'. Human adaptability depends on a rational and critical perception of a contextual reality in which the various parts are perceived as constituent elements of a whole... 'holistic perception'. Holistic perception is a function of  understanding the interrelationships between the component parts with each other and with the whole... clear perception of interactions between the various components of a complex reality as different dimensions of a totality. Perception of each of the parts in its own context creates depth and allows for a clear perception of the reality in its totality... ('vision'). The total vision of the reality makes it possible for the brain to analyse critically and to recognize problems as challenging and capable of being resolved... 'problem resolution'. Problem resolution depends n the correct evaluation of the given contextual reality.

 Holistic perception is a function of the interdependent and integrated functioning of the two hemispheres of the brain the 'cerebral hemispheres'. The integrated functioning brain of the cerebral hemispheres is the structural basis of the brain's automatic response to the complexities of the environment.

Survival value of brain-based learning... 'experiential learning'... in human evolution The learning capacity of the brain is a product of human evolution through natural selection and can best be understood in terms of adaptation and survival. Human adaptive behaviour and survival depends on the brain's capacity to respond automatically to the complexities of the environment and then to make quick decisions for purposeful adaptation. Adaptive decision making depends on the activation of the brain's ability to compare, categorize, organize, analyze, integrate and evaluate or 'process' information. In the processing of information, the brain focuses on a set of environmental stimuli on the conscious level of awareness  'consciousness' and subconsciously processes the information in the context of peripheral stimuli of the physical, social, cultural and emotional environments. The capacity to think depends on the way in which the peripheral stimuli are processed on the subconscious level of awareness.

It is the individual's consciousness level which determines the mode of interpretation and the type of motivation for subsequent behaviour.

 The individual's thought and behaviour patterns depend on their perception of  'reality' i.e. 'character orientation'. The individual thinks about a given reality and then makes evaluations in terms of how they perceive it.. Patterns of inquiry and observation which lead to accurate evaluation - 'critical thought' - result in behaviour which is creative and 'adaptive'. (Destructive and 'non-adaptive' behaviour results from innacurate evaluation resulting from the inability to think critically). Learning which is meaningful in the context of experience is 'experiential learning'. Experiential learning is the self-initiated learning of personal involvement and involves motivation which is intrinsic to the organism i.e. self-motivation or 'intrinsic motivation'... motivation driven by the instinctive need to search for meaning in experience i.e. 'curiosity'. Curiosity is stimulated by the challenge of the complexity of the environment and stimulates the brain's natural capacity for understanding and awareness i.e. act of knowing or 'cognition'. Cognition is facilitated in a mental process involving profound and thorough examination and evaluation while engaging in intellectual, emotional, psychological, moral and spiritual aspects of character development i.e. contemplation or 'meditation'. Meditation is a function of the  brain as natural function as 'meaning maker' i.e. 'brain-based learning'. Brain-based learning engages the brain's natural potential for creativity i.e. 'creative intelligence' or  'intuition' (developed intuition of developed conscience)... and involves emotions...'learning emotions' or 'motivations' as well as intellect.  

A major breakthrough in neuroscience is the discovery of structural interconnections between those parts of the brain which are involved in both reasoning and emotion.

This finding has significant implications for educational theory. The new understanding of the learning process can be applied effectively to teaching practice. Pedagogical methodologies of brain-based learning are compatible with the natural functioning of the brain - 'brain-compatible'. Brain-compatible pedagogies teach to the brain as a pattern detector which simultaneously perceives parts and wholes. They aim to facilitate the brain's natural capacity to make connections, to organize information, to orchestrate complex learning experiences, to perceive relationships and to integrate new experience with previously learned experience. They aim to 'orchestrate' all learning experiences. They provide the learner with experiences which enable them to recognize existing patterns of connections and to create new ones. They provide a rational context for brain-based learning and wholistic education. They recognize and encourage the learning process as a natural phenomenon. They teach to the brain's innate drive to search for meaning or 'learn'. They take advantage of the brain's natural functions and natural potential for learning. Their aim is to bring about successful learning as a natural process based on the optimal functioning of the brain. Pedagogical methods which teach to the brain provide intellectually challenging content in meaningful context. They depend on the global presentation of subject matter to stimulate the brain's natural function of wholistic or 'global learning'. Brain compatible pedagogies promote cooperative and collaborative or 'interdisciplinary' learning and teaching environments. They formulate contextual frameworks in terms of interconnecting themes which unify different ideas and knowledge areas or subjects i.e. 'thematic teaching'. They teach with the understanding that knowledge of one subject is embedded in knowledge of other subjects and that all knowledge is embedded in life experience. They design curricula so as to integrate them around the meaningful interpenetration and interrelationships between facts and subjects. They emphasize the relevance of real life learning experience in the classroom. They teach to the brain's innate capacity for social interaction i.e. 'social intelligence'. Social intelligence is crucial to effective learning for understanding or 'perceptual learning'. Perceptual learning through social interaction promotes change in character or 'growth'... 'holistic education'

"The brain's natural function is the search for meaning in experience. 'Brain-based learning' is confluent with the brain's natural rules for meaningful learning". (Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine, Making Connections, (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 1991, 79-88.)

 The broad definition of 'learning' is conceived in terms of changes of behaviour which result from experience and thus includes memory. However in psychobiological research it is convenient to distinguish between learning as the 'acquisition and development of new responses' and  memory as 'the retention or recall of the learned response'. Learning is a function of the chemical and molecular mechanisms involving the nerve cells and the junctional units connecting them, the 'synapses.' (Eric R. Kandel and Robert D. Hawkins "The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality" Scientific American September 1992 pp. 79-86) .

Holistic perception involves the brain's ability to compare, categorize, organize, analyze, integrate and evaluate or 'process' information accurately in order to make decisions which are effective in adaptation to changing conditions.

The pervasiveness of experiential learning makes it exciting, absorbing and compelling.

Experiential learning is the basis for education which is effective for the person as a whole i.e. 'holistic education'.

Holistic education is education for both cognitive development for understanding or 'knowledge' and emotional development  for personality integration or 'maturity'. Education for knowledge and maturity is based on the optimal functioning of the brain or 'optimalearning'. Optimalearning involves not only cognitive learning but affective learning or the development of 'emotional intelligence'. Emotions provide the meanings which are essential to learning. Meaning is expressed through 'functional language' which depends on authentic social interaction or 'dialogue'.

Authentic dialogue is crucial to experiential learning.  

Optimal learning and brain's capacity to see patterns: The student naturally looks for larger patterns.

 The brain is a pattern detector. The wholistic perspective is natural. One fact can be seen in many different contexts. One subject or issue is always related to many other subjects or issues. There is an interconnectedness between facts and several subjects, and within the subjects. A subject is understood if relationships with other areas is rcognized. In this way the subject or facts 'make sense' and have meaning. It is a natural process of the brain to make sense of the environment for survival of the organism. The brain processes information all the time. It naturally responds in a global way to the context of the environment in which it is immersed. The brain is a 'parallel processor.' Information is processed for many different functions at the same time - hormone levels in the bloodstream, digestion, breathing, heart etc. all the physical functions are goi g on at the same time as the mental functions of thinking, reading, listening etc. The interconnections between various parts of the brain make this possible. The brain is described as 'holographic' or 'global' or 'interconnected.'

 For education an undersanding of the global nature of the functioning of the brain is crucial. States of arousal or 'states of consciousness': creative state, meditative state, dreaming, rationality (being functional and effective in the world.) They are influenced by physical wellbeing and emotions. In each state of consciousness, a different part of the brain is dominant, but the brain functions as a whole. Brain research indicates that parts and wholes interact Arthur Koestler coined the word 'holon' which means that everything is a part of something bigger and is itself made up of parts. The brain can deal with parts and wholes simultaneously. The brain can deal with the interconnected, interpenetrating 'holographic' world.

 "One common thrust of many new methods of teaching is that they have this sense of the wholeness that emerges out of seeing how academic subjects relate to each other and how human beings relate to the subjects."("Understanding a Brain-Based Approach to Learning and Teaching' Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffry Caine Educational Leadership vol no. October 1990 66-70)

 From the findings of brain research it becomes evident that intelligence and all the other properties of the 'mind' result from the patterns of neurons and their connections. It becomes evident that the brain has a natural capacity to make connections and to process information as a functioning whole. They indicate that effective learning results from the response of the  brain as a whole to incoming stimuli.

Biology of learning  Brain functioning as the biological basis of learning is the concern of brain research or 'neuroscience'.  Learning is a function of the propagation of nerve signals or 'impulses' along the nerve cells or 'neurons', their transmission across the interconnections - the 'synapses'. Inhibition of the formation of synaptic connections inhibits learning and stimulation of formation of synaptic connections enhances learning - synapse modification. Learning which is based on the natural functioning of the brain - brain-based learning - enhances the formation of synaptic connections. Formation of synaptic connections is naturally enhanced in the mental process of absorption or 'immersion'. In the immersion process, the brain responds to the environment as a whole or 'wholistically' and each new experience is embedded in the totality of past experience and is integrated with it. Facilitation of the immersion process increases the brain's capacity for the simultaneous perception of parts and wholes i.e. 'holistic perception'.

 We learn from neuroscience that the brain has a natural capacity to make connections.

 "Neurobiology, the science of the brain and cognitive psychology, science of the mind, have merged over the past several decades. Recent brain research has resulted in a new framework for the study of learning. This framework is based on the study of biological substrates of mental functions. As processes of acquiring and retaining new knowledge, the mental functions of learning and memory are analysed in terms of mechanisms involving the neurons or nerve cells. Insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of learning constitute the beginnings of the bridge being formed between cognitive psychology and molecular biology". (Eric R. Kandel and Robert D. Hawkins "The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality" Scientific American September 1992 79-86)

 PROCESS OF IMMERSION and making connections: "Every complex event embeds information in the brain and links what is being learned to the rest of the learner's current experiences, past knowledge, and future behaviour."

This is a characteristic property of the brain which should be exlpoited in the learning process. Teaching methods should "expand the content and context" through a process of 'immersion.' The student's natural capacity for 'immersion' in content and context should be utilized in the learning process. The natural immersion process can be hindered or helped depending on the teaching methods being used. Through the 'immersion process' the student makes an increasing number of connections to other learning experiences. If the immersion process is hindered, fewer connections are made. If the immersion process is helped, more connections are made... this increases the brain's capacity to respond as a whole and to make connections for the simultaneous perception of parts and wholes i.e. 'wholistic perception'.

 The immerion process can be helped or hindered not only by the teaching methods but also by family and social environments.

The individual's mode of interpretation... their type of motivation and behaviour is determined by their consciousness level... their level of development or 'sociocognitive stage'.

Principles of brain-based learning are compatible with the new wholistic view of the world and its complexity and interrelatedness. (Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain Alexandria, Virginia: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1991).  

The findings of neuroscientists, neurobiologists and psychobiologists have significant implications for education.

Brain-compatible pedagogy

 "Methodologies of so-called 'brain-based' learning teach to the brain's natural functioning. They teach to the brain's natural capacity for making associations. Teaching methods based on the natural funtioning of the brain enhance learning because they enhance the formation of synaptic connections between nerve cells. They teach with a view to the optimal use of the brain's capacity to organize information and perceive relationships. They teach to the learner's ability to perceive relationships between new experiences and previous experiences. They teach for meaningful learning in contextual frameworks. They formulate contextual frameworks in terms of unifying themes which connect different ideas and different knowledge areas or 'subjects'. Pedagogies based on the natural functioning of the brain are described as 'brain-compatible'. Methodologies for educators of natural knowledge provide opportunities for learners to see global relationships, to make connections, to extract meaningful patterns. The function of the teacher is to facilitate learning by organizing educational experiences through a process of 'orchestrated immersion'. The learner experiences 'immersion' in an orchestrated educational environment." (Caine. Making Connections)

The findings of brain research lend validity to a rational basis for holistic education. They provide a rationale for pedagogical methodologies which promote natural brain-based learning for natural knowledge... integrative teaching and learning model for meaningful education which allows students to make connections between different areas of knowledge. The reconceptualization of teaching and learning based on a knowledge of brain functioning can result in a more effective educational experience for children growing up in the complex world of the 'global village.'

 Character development depends on the natural growth process of integration... involves the brain's natural capacity for brain-based learning. The integrated individual is stable and autonomous.   

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notes:

 BRAIN-COMPATIBLE PEDAGOGY Brain functioning as the biological basis of learning is the concern of 'neuroscience'. A major breakthrough in neuroscience is the discovery of structural interconnections between those parts of the brain which are involved in both reasoning and emotion. This finding has significant implications for educational theory. The new understanding of the learning process can be applied effectively to teaching practice. Pedagogical methodologies of brain-based learning are compatible with the natural functioning of the brain. They are described as 'brain-compatible'. Brain-compatible pedagogies teach to the brain as a pattern detector which simultaneously perceives parts and wholes. They aim to facilitate the brain's natural capacity to make connections, to organize information, to orchestrate complex learning experiences, to perceive relationships and to integrate new experience with previously learned experience. They aim to 'orchestrate' all learning experiences. They provide the learner with experiences which enable them to recognize existing patterns of connections and to create new ones. They provide a rational context for brain-based learning and wholistic education. They recognize and encourage the learning process as a natural phenomenon. They teach to the brain's innate drive to search for meaning or 'learn'. They take advantage of the brain's natural functions and natural potential for learning. Their aim is to bring about successful learning as a natural process based on the optimal functioning of the brain. Pedagogical methods which teach to the brain provide intellectually challenging content in meaningful context. They depend on the global presentation of subject matter to stimulate the brain's natural function of wholistic or 'global' learning. Brain compatible pedagogies promote cooperative and collaborative or 'interdisciplinary' learning and teaching environments. They formulate contextual frameworks in terms of interconnecting themes which unify different ideas and knowledge areas or subjects i.e. 'thematic teaching'. They teach with the understanding that knowledge of one subject is embedded in knowledge of other subjects and that all knowledge is embedded in life experience. They design curricula so as to integrate them around the meaningful interpenetration and interrelationships between facts and subjects. They emphasize the relevance of real life learning experience in the classroom. They teach to the brain's innate capacity for social interaction or 'social intelligence'. Social intelligence is crucial to effective learning for understanmding or 'perceptual learning'. Perceptual learning through social interaction promotes change in charachter or 'growth'.  . Learning which is meaningful in the context of experience is 'experiential learning.

consciousness... The brain's thinking capacity depends on the way in which the peripheral stimuli are processed on the subconscious level of awareness or 'consciousness'.

Relaxed alertness "...optimal state of mind for expanding natural knowledge. It combines the moderate to high challenge that is built into intrinsic motivatiowith low threat and a pervasive sense of well-being... It is the key to people's ability to access what they alrteady know, think creatively, tolerate ambiguity, and delay gratification- all essential for genuine expansionn of knowledge. (Caine and Caine 134)

The learner can be both reaxed and alert in when in the context of an environment  which is both safe and challenging. The learner must feel both secure and motivated in order to be able to make sense of new experience in that environment. In such an environment the learner can explore new thoughts nd make new connections ... engage the brain in 'active processing' or 'active learning'... seeing relationships between new  experience and the knowledge of old experience.... relates what is being learned to the rest of the learner's current experience, past knowledge and eventually their future behaviour.

 Active processing "the consolidation and internalsation of information in a way that is bpoth personally meaningful and conceptually coherent.(147) Active learning involves the creation of connections between new knowledge and previous knowledge. ( See Karl Pribram's concept of 'active uncertainty'... and 'neuropsychology')   The objective of natural brain-based learning is to make sense of personal experience - 'experiential learning'

Teaching methods can facilitate the expansion of content and context through a process of 'immersion' which enables the learner to make an optimal number of connections with other learning experiences... The understanding  can be reinforced if the learner is given opportunities to talk about their learning experiences. Hence the importance of an appropriate social context of learning.

The brain has a natural capacity to see patterns... and to look for larger patterns... The natural capacity to see the whole... 'holistic  perception'... enables the learner to see one particular element or 'fact' from different perspectives... to see the interconnectedness of the various different elements which make up the whole picture... in this way the brain 'makes meaning' ... 'makes sense' or 'learns'. Making sense of the environment is an aspect of adapting to it... the brain is processing iformation from the environment all the time... it naturally responds to the environment in a manner which is global or 'holistic'.