link: experiential learning

                                  

                         BIOLOGY OF LEARNING: LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE IS 'EXPERIENTIAL

                                                      LEARNING' OR 'NATURAL LEARNING'

theme: The convergence of findings from neuroscience and psychology reveal connections   between the physiology of the brain and the psychology of learning behaviour. The idea of the brain as hardwired by genetics is replaced by the knowledge that the brain is constructed not only  before birth but is further shaped by learning from experience or 'experiential learning' Experiential learning is natural learning or 'brain-based learning' ...character change learning which results in intelligence as 'creative intelligence'.

 "One of the most important lessons to derive from brain research is that in a very important sense, all learning is experiential. What we learn depends on the global experience, not just on the manner of presentation. We do not automatically learn enough from our experience. What matters is how experience is used. ...in deliberately teaching for the expansion of natural knowledge, we need both to help students have appropriate experiences and to help them capitalize on the experiences." (Caine Making Connections p.104)                                                                                                                             

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experiential learning as personal involvement...

learning and personality change...

naturalistic value system...

learning as a natural function of the brain...  the brain learns in an emotional context...

biological basis...   effects of physiological and evironmental factors...

the brain evaluates environmental stimuli...     new information is processed in the spatial memory system...

implications for education...

references...

'Significant or 'experiential' learning is learning of personal involvement

'Education' is futile if it involves the learning of material which has no personal meaning. Learning which does not involve the learner's feelings has no relevance for the whole person and is insignificant. Significant learning involves thought and feelings. Left to his own devices a child learns rapidly and effectively. He learns from experience. Learning with a quality of personal involvement - this is called 'experiential learning.' (Carl Rogers "Freedom to Learn" Charles Merrill Publishing Company, Columbus Ohio l969)

Experiential learning involves thought and feelings.. the whole person in both his feeling and cognitive aspects is in the learning event. Experiential learning is self-initiated... pervasive... evaluated by the learner and has meaning as its essence. ...

 "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)

 Learning and personality or 'character' change:

 "So-called learning theory in this country has based itself almost entirely on deficit-motivation with goal objects usually external to the organism, i.e. learning the best way to satisfy a need. For this reason, among others, our psychology of learning is a limited body of knowledge, useful only in small areas of life and of real interest only to other 'learning theorists'. This is of little help in solving the problem of growth and self-actualization. Here the techniques of repeatedly acquiring from the outside world satisfactions of motivational deficiencies are much less needed. Associative learning and canalizations give way to more perceptual learning.. to the increase of insight and understanding, to knowledge of self and to the steady growth of personality, i.e. increased synergy, integration and inner consistency. Change becomes much less an acquisition of habits or associations one by one, and much more a total change of the total person, i.e. a new person rather than the same person with some habits added like new external possessions. This kind of character-change-learning means changing a very complex, highly integrated , holistic organism, which in turn means that many impacts will make no change at all because more and moresuch impacts wqill be rejected as the person more stable and more autonomous. The most important learning experiences reported to me by my subjects were very frequently single life experiences such as tragedies, deaths, traumata, conversiions, and sudden insights, which forced change in the life-outlook of the person and consequently in everything that he did. ....

To the extent that growth consists in peeling away inhibitions and constraints and then permitting the person to 'be himself' to emit behaviour 'radiantly' as it were - rather than to repeat it, to allow his inner nature to express itself, to this extent the behaviour of self-actualizers is unlearned, created and released rather than acquired, expressive rather than coping." (See "Motivation and Personality")

Experiential learning the basis of a naturalistic value system:

"It is the free choices of such actualising people (in those situations where real choices are possible from among a variety of possibilities) that I claim be descriptively studies as a naturalistic value suystem with which the hopes of the observer absolutely have nohing to do i.e. it is 'scientific'. I do not say 'he ought to choose this or that' but only 'healthy people, permitted top choose freely, are served to choose this or that'.  This is like asking 'what are the values of the best human beings?' rather than ' 'what should be their values.?', or 'what ought they be?' Furthermore I think these findings can be generalised to most of the human species because it looks to me (and to others) as if most people (perhaps all) tend toward self-actualisation (This is seen most clearly in the experiences in psychotherapy especially of the uncovering sort) and as if in principle at least, most people are capable of self-actualisation." (Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being. l58)

Conclusions...

1. "One conclusion from all these free-choice experiments, from developments in dynamic motivation theory and from examination of psychotherapy, is a very revolutionary one, namely that our deepest needs are not, in themselves, dangerous or evel or bad. This opens up the prospects of resolving the splits within the person between Apollonian and Dionysian, classical and romantic, scientific and poetic, betwen reason and impulse, work and play, verbal and preverbal, maturity and childlikeness, masculine and feminine, growth and regression.

 2. The main social parallel to this change in our philosophy of human nature is the rapidly growing tendency to perceive the culture as an instrument of need-gratification as well as of frustration and control. We can now reject the almost universal mistake of believing that the interests of the individual and of society are of necessity mutually exclusive and antagonistyic, or that civilisation is primarily a mechanism for controlling and policing human instinctoid impulses  (see Marcuse, H. "Eros and Civilization." Beacon, l955) All these age-old axioms are swept away by the new possibility of defining the main function of a healthy culture as the fostering of universal self-actualisation "(l59)

3.  "In healthy people only is there a good correlation between subjective delight in the experience, impulse to the experience, or wish for it, and 'basic need' for the experience ('it's good for him in the long run). Only such people uniformly yearn for what is good for them and for others, and then are able to wholeheartedly to enjoy it, and approve of it. For such people virtue is its own reward in the sense of being enjoyed in itself. They spontaneously tend to do right because thatis what they want to do, what they need to do, what they enjoy, what they approve of doing, and what they continue to enjoy."(l59)

 "So far as philosophical theory is concerned, many historical dilemmas and contradictions are resolved by this finding."

 "Creativeness, spontaneity, self-hood, authenticity, caring for others, being able to love, yearning for truth are embryonic potentialities belonging to his species-membership as much as his arms and legs and brain and eyes. This is not a contradiction to the data already amassed which show clearlty that living in a family and in a culture are abslutelynecessary to actualize these psychologiical potentials that define humanness. (l60-l61) A teacher or a culture....permits, fosters, helps and encourages to actualization what already exists in the embryo. The culture is sun, food and water. The child is the seed". (Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being 160)

 Learning is a natural function of the human brain: evolutionary perspective (learning and evolution of the human brain)

Learning is a highly developed mental function which is the natural outcome of evolution by natural selection. Enhancement of the capacity for learning is a function of the development of the human organ of learning i.e. 'brain'. The brain is a product of human evolution through natural selection. In the course of human evolution, survival of the human organism depends on the natural selection of 'brain functions' which enable the individual to adapt to the environment. Behavioral adaptation is the basis for survival. Human adaptive behaviour depends on the brain's capacity to make decisions. Adaptive decision making depends on the organism's ability to process complex information. Processing complex information depends on the capacity to derive meaning from experience or 'learn'.

 Learning as making meaning is a natural function of the brain as meaning maker... proper functioning of the brain. The brain is an organ of learning, adapted for the survival of the species.

 The function of the brain is to search for meaning in the complexity of the environment in which it is immersed. In the instinctive drive to derive meaning from a complex environment, the brain responds automatically to the complexity of environmental stimuli. The brain processes many incoming stimuli simultaneously - those which deal with body functioning and health maintenance at the same time as those which deal with the intellect and the emotions. It consciously focuses on a set of environmental stimuli and responds to stimuli in the field of focused attention. It responds subconsciously to peripheral stimuli. It rapidly processes information in the context of peripheral stmuli and encodes the information in the short term memory for storage in the long term memory. Processing of information involves organization, analysis, integration and evaluation i.e. 'thinking skills' or 'thinking'. Thinking is a function of the ability to process complex information from a multifaceted environment.

Enhancement of the capacity for learning is a function of the development of the human organ of learning i.e. the 'brain'.  Learning is a natural process which is driven by the instinctive need to search for meaning in the complexity of environmental stimuli i.e. learning from experience or 'experiential learning'.

 Effects of physiological and environmental factors The learning function of the brain is a natural function which is affected by physiological as well as environmental factors Effective learning depends on the brain's capacity to seek patterns and detect them as quickly as possible. The brain is a pattern detector. The brain's pattern seeking capacity... by the nature of the peripheral stimuli in the environment - the physical, social, cultural and emotional environments.. Learning is a natural process which is driven by the instinctive need to search for meaning in the complexity of environmental stimuli i.e. learning from experience or 'experiential learning'. Experiential learning requires effective thinking.

The brain learns in an emotional context: influence of emotions The brain's pattern seeking capacity, hence its learning ability and its ability to think is influenced by its affective states or 'emotions'. Complex environmental stimuli are rapidly processed in their emotional context. The learning process involves the combined functioning of the intellect, the emotions and creative capacities. Effective learning depends on the functional integration of the brain's cognitive and emotional states. The learning process involves the combined functioning of the intellect, the emotions and creative capacities. Learning is also enhanced by an alternation of different states of consciousness - rational waking state, creative state, meditative state, dream state, etc. The different states of consciousness are influenced by physical wellbeing and emotions. In each state a different part of the brain is dominant, but the brain functions as a whole. The brain's capacity for learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.

 The brain evaluates environmental stimuli The brain's evaluation of the environment determines the individual's behaviour. Depending on the accuracy of the brain's evaluation of the environment, the individual's subsequent behaviour is adaptive or non-adaptive. The brain's capacity to integrate complex environmental stimuli results in effective thinking and adaptive behaviour. Quick and effective thinking results in the individual's adaptive behavior. It consciously responds to stimuli in the field of focused attention and subconsciously to peripheral stimuli. In order to make a quick decision for purposeful adaptation to a changing environment (adaptive decision making) depends on the organism's The brain's innate drive to search for meaning in the environment is the driving force behind the highly developed mental processes of learning and memory. Derived from the brain's innate drive to search for meaning in a complex environment, the brain's 'time-binding' function of learning and memory depends on its ability to process complex information. Effective learning from experience results in adaptive changes of behavior.

 Brain functions which result in effective learning produce adaptive behaviour and subsequent survival.

 Brain functions which produce non-effective thinking produce non-adaptive behavior. In its search for meaning in a complex environment... the brain responds automatically to the complexity of stimuli... to the complexity in which it is immersed. The human aspects of human behavior and human nature are derived from the brain's ability to learn and to recall what is learned i.e 'memory'. Derived from the brain's innate drive to search for meaning in a complex environment, The brain's innate drive to search for meaning in the environment provides the driving force behind the highly developed mental processes of learning and memory. Effective learning from experience results in adaptive changes of behavior. In its attempt to process new information from complex sensory input, the brain automatically recalls previously stored programs and formulates new programs. It formulates 'programs' which provide it with crucial information about the surroundings. Learning and memory are most effective when facts and skills are 'embedded' in the natural spatial memory and in the context of real life experiences. New learning experiences are naturally 'embedded' in previous learning experiences. Example is the learning of native language. Learning of language occurs by way of internal mental process and social interaction. Social interaction is crucial to effective learning.

 New information is rapidly processed in the 'spatial memory system'. The spatial memory system allows for the instant memory of experience. Necessary for survival, the spatial memory system drives the brain's innate search for meaning and is constantly monitoring and comparing the present with past surroundings and experiences. The system is enriched aver time with learning and experience. The spatial memory system is located in the brain's hippocampus.

Intelligence as a function of experience.

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In general the findings in brain research indicate that effective learning results from the wholistic response of the whole brain to incoming stimuli.

 "The research of the neuroscientists and psychobiologists, together with the knowledge and intuition of educators and psychologists, points to the need for a more deliberate involvement of the whole brain in the process of learning." (Caine Making Connections p.7)

theme: evolutionary significance of learning and memory. As natural functions of the brain, the processes of learning and memory did not develop by accident; they developed because they were of survival value.

What is learning? For the convenience of argument, it is necessary to distinguish between learning as the acquisition of new behavioural responses and 'memory' as the retention and recall of responses which have been learned. The broad definition of 'learning' is conceived in terms of changes of behaviour which result from experience and thus includes the 'retention of learning' or 'memory'.

Biological basis of experiential learning as 'natural learning'

Experiential learning involves stimuli which are strong enough to establish new synaptic connections between neurons in the cortex Knowledge of the role of stimulation on synapse modification is directly related to educational methodology.The effectiveness of synapses is modified or altered by experience. In experiences of learning the stimulation of nerve impulses at the synapse enhances the influence of neurons on each other and causes new synapses to form and grow... 'experiential learning'. Experiential learning as 'successful learning' is a function of synaptic activity which involves stimuli strong enough to establish new synaptic connections between the neurons in the cortex of the brain....  'neuroplasticity'. When new synaptic connections are established then changes are brought about in the structure of existing nerve networks and nerve circuits and learning results.

  "Learning occurs as a result of changing the effectiveness of synapses so that their influence on other neurons also changes... Learning is a function of the effectiveness of synapses to propagate signals and initiate new signals along connecting neurons. Learning and experience change the structure of the neural networks." (Geoffrey Hinton, "How Neural Networks Learn from Experience," Scientific American, 267:3, September 1992, 145.)

 Wholistic brain-based learning for natural knowledge

The collaboration between body and brain i.e. 'bodybrain' concept... emotion creates the bridge or 'nexus' betwen mind and body  Emotion is the gatekeeper to learning (emotion molecules... 'endorphins'...)

There is a scientific basis to the popular wisdom about 'gut feelings'.... new scientific understanding of the power of the mind and 'feelings' to affect health and well being. Learning is a body-brain partnership.

Informational substances and chemical communication system among the cells of the body

Neurotransmitters responsible for the synaptic leap beween neurons are but one category of 'informational substances' involved in the learning process. They may constitute only 2% of neuronal communication in the brain. There is are other categories of various transmitters, peptides, hormones and protein ligands which travel via bloodstream, endocrine system, neurological, gastrointestinal and immune systems and then attach to receptors on cells throughout the body.  The largest category of informational substances are peptides produced in all body cells as well as brain cells. They all have receptors in the brain qualifying them as 'neuropeptides'.

In locations where information from the sense eners the nervous system (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, fingertips) there are high concentrations of receptors for information substances. These so-called 'nodal points' can be accessed by almost all neuropeptides which filter the input of the senses and selecting the stimuli to be further processed by the brain. In this way the emotions (from the brain) and the senses are connected in a two-way network in which each can influence the other.   

Potential threats to safety or survival are detected unconsciously through the activity of the amygdala which gauges the emotional content of sensory data (LeDoux)...the brain can override rational thought  and initiate a reflexive response ('fight or flight') which can be alleviated with bodily processes such as slow breathing etc.

Intelligence as a function of experience

New experience physically changes the brain ('neuroplasticity') neurons sprout new branches or 'denrites'...thus inceasing communication points the 'synapses'. The synaptic leap between the axon of one neuron and a dendrite of another is the physical basis or 'trace' of learning and memory. Learning has occurred when a particular neuronal pathway is used repeatedly becoming  more and more efficient. The findings of neuroscientists (see Marion Diamond experiments) confirm the importance of experience in the development of observed intelligence through development of dendrites.   

Personal meaning: the key to memory

Pathway of information... sensory stimuli reach neurons in appropriate sensory cortex (visual, auditory etc.) Sensations are relayed through the thalamus and then to the association area of the neocortex where they are reassembled into recognizable sensations. Almot simultaneously the information is sent to the amygdala which guages the emotional content and the frontal cortex which evaluates content. In this way the brain constructs meaning or 'learns'. f the emotional context is emotionally important then powerful memories are created. Long-term memories are not formed in the absence of personal meaning.

Opiate receptors unlock cells in the brain so that opiates, including the body's natural opiates, can enter. Neuropeptides are responsible for emotions - the nexus between mind and body. The information molecules which distribute information to cells of the body - rmotions can create or destroy health. Hippocampus - part of the limbic system - is the gateway to the emotional experience.

 The human capacities for experiential richness are teachable. It is possible to design an educational program around the instinctive needs of 'subjective biology', the metaneeds, as well as the physiological and basic psychological needs.

Implications for education The only goal for education that makes sense in the modern world is one that is based on a reliance on process rather than upon static knowledge... the facilitation of significant learning or experiential learning.

 Teacher as facilitator: The facilitation of significant (experiential) learning depends on certain attitudinal qualities in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learner... the most important attitude is 'genuineness,' congruency - to be real about oneself. The congruent personality is a vital person, with convictions... authentic, expressing feelings of enthusiasm, boredom, anger, sensitivity, sympathy - accepting these feelings as his own without needing to impose them on the learner... able to share feelings of anger and frustration as well as feelings of sweetness and light. Another important attitude is one of 'empathic understanding' and profound trust of the learner...'prizing' the learner - feelings, opinions, his person - caring without being possessive. One's prizing of the learner is an operational expression of one's essential confidence and trust of the human organism. principles for facilitation of learning: human beings have a natural potentiality for learning, significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purposes.

 "We never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment. Whether we permit chance environments to do the work or whether we design environmnets for the purpose makes a great deal of difference. And any environment is a chance environment so far as its educative influence is concerned unless it has been deliberately regulated with reference to its educative effect." (Dewey Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education New York : The Free Press 1966

 

references:

Leslie Hart Human Brain and Human Learning Kent,WA:Books for Educators,1999

Joseph LeDoux  The Emotional Brain  New York: Simon and Schuster 1996

Candace Pert Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone 1999

Antonia Damasio  Descarte's Error:Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain  New York: G.P. Putnam Sons, 1994

articles Geoffrey Hinton How Neural Networks Learn from Experience Scientific American, 267:3. September 1992, 145.

Eric R. Kandel and Robert D. Hawkins The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality Scientific American September 1992 79-86

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notes

 

 'Cognitive structure' "refers to rules for processing information or for connecting experienced events." (Kohlberg, L. Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization. In In D.A. Goslin (ed.) Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Chicago: Rand McNally 1969, 350)

 "When is one free from tests or other types of institutional press?..... only when one submits oneself to them and rises above them." Education is a human enterprise involved with the development of human potential and human values. "Full maturation of the 'productive' character and the individual's self-realization is the aim of the biological process of human development and therefore of education and humanistic ethics."

Geoffrey Hinton, "How Neural Networks Learn from Experience," Scientific American, 267:3. September 1992, 145. Eric R. Kandel and Robert D. Hawkins "The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality" Scientific American September 1992 79-86

 "Learning occurs as a result of changing the effectiveness of synapses so that their influence on other neurons also changes." psychobiological research... Wholistic brain-based learning for natural knowledge

In general the findings in brain research indicate that effective learning results from the wholistic response of the whole brain to incoming stimuli.

 "The research of the neuroscientists and psychobiologists, together with the knowledge and intuition of educators and psychologists, points to the need for a more deliberate involvement of the whole brain in the process of learning." (Caine Making Connections p.7)

theme: evolutionary significance of learning and memory. As natural functions of the brain, the processes of learning and memory did not develop by accident; they developed because they were of survival value.

What is learning? For the convenience of argument, it is necessary to distinguish between learning as the acquisition of new behavioural responses and 'memory' as the retention and recall of responses which have been learned. The broad definition of 'learning' is conceived in terms of changes of behaviour which result from experience and thus includes the 'retention of learning' or 'memory'.