If you like learning to learn about how people learn â€“ and how they learn about learning â€“ you would have learned quite a bit at the talk given by Luz Mangurian, Professor Emerita at Towson University. She talked about how people learn, but took us for a tour of how the brain works and what happens in the brain when learning is happening. The point was not to turn us into neurologists, but to give us ideas on what to do and what not to do when we are teaching.
For example, she showed us a chart that tracks studentsâ€™ brain waves during a lecture. The brain activity slowly declines as the lecture progresses and the students enter a more trancelike state. So donâ€™t lecture too long or avoid it altogether. Alternately, when students engaged in a discussion the brain activity was much higher. She cited studies that showed how note taking diminishes after the first 10 minutes of a lecture.
She told us that the neurons in the brain are where learning take place, and that our neurons are constantly â€œtalking to each otherâ€ and acquiring information. An instructorâ€™s goal should be to get the information into longer-term memory, or else students just forget what they heard in a short while. With learning, said Mangurian, â€œstrong connections are made between the neurons.â€
So the more you know about how the brain works the more you understand how learning happens and what you, as an instructor, can do to help students learn more effectively. In short, donâ€™t just lecture to them. Get them activated and get their neurons firing (Iâ€™m not sure how one checks on that). Oh, and tell them to go home and get some sleep right after your instruction session. Whether or not something gets into long-term memory can depend on how well we sleep, as thatâ€™s when it happens.