Neurons That Wire Together, Fire Together

by Anjum Babukhan, a YPO member since 2014 

Brain-compatible learning (BCL) is a teaching tool that helps children (and adults) increase their thinking capacity and learning bandwidth. It occurs when a learning environment, curriculum, teaching methodology, physical environment and psychological dynamics are designed and executed in a way that complements and accelerates the functioning of the brain in acquiring knowledge.

“Brain-friendly teachers plan for learning by helping students branch out knowledge, provide an enriching and stimulating environment, and make learning meaningfully relevant,” says Eric Jensen, author of “Brain-Compatible Strategies.”

Our brains are wired to learn, even if it’s about the learning process itself. Here’s an overview of how it works.

Neuron hub

Despite rapid and mind-boggling technological advancements and even artificial intelligence, nothing can compete with the dynamism of the human brain. The most fascinating part of the human body — the brain — differentiates us from all other species. The brain is the crown jewel of the human body. It is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. The brain is our dynamic CPU of how we process life itself. Isn’t it incredible is that we can even think about our own thinking? Thanks to neuroscience we can even learn about how we learn and this will help us all get smarter in life.

The science of how the brain learns best is a revolution in learning and a transformation that will help us do a better job of imparting learning. Brain-compatible learning is an interdisciplinary approach combining psychology, neuroscience and education pedagogy. This new paradigm influences not only our methodology but also our discipline policies with use of information technology and even the way we think about art and physical education.

Right ‘software’ for digital natives

How do we effectively teach a current population of youngsters who are used to being mesmerizingly engaged with continuous prompts from digital gadgets? Often, children are exposed to digital stimuli from early toddlerhood and find it difficult to focus with the “old-school” methods imparted by the “digital immigrants” which most of us adults are categorized as. In this scenario, it is challenging for an adult — whether a teacher or parent — to compete with multimedia stimulators and pop-ups every second. How do we effectively engage a digital native when he/she is in school or at home? How do we use the same hardware (our students’ minds) but run a different, more updated program for learning (software) as a solution?

Built-in native capability

Given the dynamic nature of teaching and learning, educators and parents are realizing that having a “hard science” to support practices equips us with the intellectual wherewithal to buttress such practices, especially the ones we knew worked, but were hard to prove. Until we make the new “3Rs” — research, reflection and renewal — as fundamental to learning as the earlier “3Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic, our teaching-learning strategies will remain less than optimal. When partners in education move toward making our practices more brain-based, backed with neuroscience validity, everyone benefits, particularly students.

Processing information flow

Learning occurs across multiple pathways that receive and coordinate simultaneous inputs. Our brains process sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations all at once. Experiences that engage all of the physical senses — walking through a museum or practicing a new skill or art, going to a novel event and so forth all stimulate the growth of numerous dendrites and enhance learning by association.

Technically — rather electro-chemically — information transfer or input occurs through cell transfer (neurons). Neurons that fire together, wire together! When stimulated (from external input), brain cells grow branch-like extensions called dendrites which have extending legs called axons that subdivide and connect to other dendrites of cells. That means sensorial experiences, emotional connections and motor practice help to embed information in various neural pathways that can be collectively retrieved to create what we refer to as “knowledge.”

Memory capacity and retrieval

Our brain’s dynamic structure alters with every experience; this phenomenon being known as neuroplasticity. How many neural connections are formed depends on both nature and nurture (genes and the enrichment received from the environment). The brain receives millions of bits of information every second but it only retains only a small fraction. Long-term memory stores only that which can be found meaningful to connect to an existing schema (a developed circuitry), is emotionally engaging or finds something so stimulating, novel or interesting enough to find its way into the episodic memory (like an unforgettable vivid episode).

As Einstein once said, “Knowledge is experience. Everything else is information.”

Learn more about brain-compatible learning in Babukhan’s Tedx Talk.

YPO member Anjum Babukhan is an educational leader, trainer and change-master. She has carved a niche in scholarly articulation and commitment to the cause of education, enrichment and empowerment. She has served as Chair of the women’s wing of The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and was Education Chair of Confederation of Indian Industries. Babukhan recently authored “ABCs of Brain-Compatible Learning” and produced a YouTube video series on the same topic. Over the past two decades, she has developed an innovative and creative educational ecosystem that creates “learning places that are nurturing spaces. She established Edvantage Teacher Institute and designed training modules for teachers and parents.

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