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August 1, 2011

Better learning based on animal learning!


How many of us have gone through at least 12 years of education if not more in order to get a basic understanding of our future and to be able to carry on to the next portion of our life? Education is a very important aspect of life and as society progresses so does the demand for better education.

In order to understand how neuroscience can help with education a basic understanding of the brain must be used as a foundation. It is important to know that scientists have already found the basic size of the brain (including the average amount of nerve cells that make up the brain) as well as the makeup of a nerve cell. These findings are clearly important in order to truly understand how the brain is functioning and therefore what is actually occurring in the brain while learning is taking place. For now I want to step away from such things because it isn't the main focus of this article. In the article Neuroscience and Education: What can brain science contribute to teaching and learning? By John Hall the idea of neuroscience is used in order to determine if education and learning can be studied in a new way allowing education to increase.

As Hall explains there are three different areas of study that are involved in Neuroscience as explained below.
1) Where scientists are concerned with the inner most mechanisms of the brain, in which they look at the structure organization and the development of the brain.
2) Known as the 'black box' level in which scientists will look at the behavioral impact of input that will be applied in specific contexts.
3) Scientists will look at the application of knowledge about human behavior, this is used in order to help with learning and teaching.

The hope is that scientists will be able to bridge the gap between all three levels in order to help make advances in teaching as well how kids are able to learn based on the findings in the first level of study (the development/organization of the brain).
Some methodological and practical difficulties that Hall expresses within his article come from a report from OECD in which the difficulty of forming these connections that scientists are seeking is examined.

Current research methods in cognitive neuroscience
necessarily limit the types of questions that are addressed.
For example, questions such as 'How do individuals learn to
recognise written words?' are more tractable than 'How do
individuals compare the themes of different stories?'. This is
because the first question leads to studies where the stimuli
and responses can be easily controlled and contrasted with
another task. As such, it becomes understandable in reference
to known cognitive models. The second question involves too
many factors that cannot be successfully separated during
experimental testing. For this reason, the type of educational
tasks favoured by society will remain more complex than the
ones that might suit cognitive neuroscience.
(OECD, 2002)

One of the mains concerns that arise with the use of neuroscience is the basic from of studying the brain. It seems like common sense that humans think, learn, behave and process things differently than say a rodent. So it therefore becomes a concern for most that time and money are being spent on the study of other animals when it is evident that humans are in a completely different league. A common problem in educations is seen in the distress of the 'children' (assuming we are speaking of education at a younger state), such as when a child experiences a loss in the immediate family, or if parents' divorce or even if the child undergoes some other form of traumatic experience. As most people know the child's learning does suffer due to the experience. I don't know about most people but I don't often seen cats undergoing intense education to even have it be impacted by the loss of family, or for that matter one doesn't often seen their cat learn at a slower pace because it no longer has its mother (since it is a common practice for animals to be separated from its parents). Now to bring this back to the main point, how much can be learned from neuroscience testing on animals when clearly they have a very different way or living as well as learning and don't often experience the same 'emotions' that humans do.

Another common issue in which Hall addresses is that it is difficult to make generalization's in order to form a concrete hypothesis in order to apply neuroscience to learning.
Now, making a jump to leaning it has be found that the brain will continue to change as a result of learning (due to environmental changes) which is known as Plasticity, is most commonly seen in early years however it is not localized to this time. Thus it goes back to an old saying "it's never too late to learn" and therefore rules out the idea that "old dogs can never learn new tricks". Hall does however explain that recent studies have concluded that there are certain times within one's life that make learning certain things easier (ie playing an instrument or learning a new language are easier to learn when under the age of 13). Another aspect to learning that has been developed not only in animals but also that human's experience every day that learning new things is a "use it or lose it" thing. Have you ever wondered why you never forget how to talk, walk, eat, write or do our basic day to day activities, well that's it right there we don't forget because we do it every day, however you may forget how to do calculus or historical facts because you never use it once you are finished with that class.

Although Hall explains all these findings very well it seems questionable to from a meaningful study in order to connect all the factors that lie within learning to how the brain functions for these ideas. How is it possible that a scientist can look at how one human learns certain things and compare it to another when all the outside factors are completely different. Although neuroscience is a great idea on paper and is helping to understand so many things about humans it doesn't seem like a realistic practice to cross over into education. Neuroscience is such a new area of science in relation to other areas and since the human brain is such a complex unit it doesn't seem like it can be used to help people with learning anytime soon. I believe that although neuroscience will make ground breaking discoveries it wont be able to truly change the way we learn or better the education system because it is such a complex field that has too many factors for scans and neuro-imaging to truly understand.




Main Article: http://www.pre-online.co.uk/feature_pdfs/spotlight92.pdf
Posted by      Cherie T. at 12:21 AM MDT

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