Brain-based learning: not ready for prime time

I’m going to use this post to weigh in on  July’s big question “Does the discussion of ‘how the brain learns’ impact your eLearning design?”  The question’s been raised on the ASTD Learning Circuits blog,  which includes links to a number of interesting articles.

While what I’ve learned of cognitive psychology does  inform my design (I do consider what’s known about how people take in, process, and use information), the term “brain-based learning,” in my opinion, has often been used to imply that the principles of cognitive psychology, and learning more generally, are directly supported by what we currently know about neuroscience. Right now the links just aren’t there.

I keep an open mind and as an ex-scientist and someone who’s read quite a bit of neuroscience research, I’m keen to learn of any new findings on the neuroscience of learning, but I’m wary of hype.  So when I see an article entitled “the power of brain-based learning” I immediately look for citations to  peer-reviewed studies embedded within the text of the article and when I don’t find these I  begin to suspect snake oil.

I know blogs aren’t exactly research papers, but I still think there’s generally some obligation to support statements like “studies say….” with cites to the actual studies.  (I know it’s the science geek in me, but I like primary references, not review articles. I like to have the ability to weigh the data for myself.) And when companies begin to sell educational products and services claiming that they’re reflecting “the latest brain science,” that’s just another kind of wrong. But off my soapbox now…

A great video by Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia,  sums up my thoughts on the matter.


2 responses to “Brain-based learning: not ready for prime time

  1. Very cool, and good to know.

    I had never even considered we were up to the point of understanding the software by looking at the hardware – although we’re moving in that direction, but since people are individuals, until we can look at an individual’s brain and see exactly what’s happening during the learning process, I don’t see that we’ll gain much of an advantage in education using neuroscience, other than perhaps knowing what the statistical limitations are for the average person at specific ages. But that’s not much of a help for individuals, and could lead to incorrect assumptions in a lot of cases. And, even if we did know exactly what was happening in an individual during the learning process, how will that explain how to alter the way that individual is taught to enhance their ability to encode the information?

    Thanks for pointing out the video.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article, and it passed some time at the end of my shift 🙂 daniel, from the video, sounds just like my brother, i would confuse the 2 on the phone.

    Website Design Firm

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