Brain-based learning is the process of learning based on the functioning and nature of the human brain (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Such methods usually consider how different people learn at different ages and in different social, physical, and emotional environments. Teachers that use this system always use the doctrine of engagement, strategy, and principle (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008).According to the proponents of this theory of learning, curriculums must be drawn with students’ interests in mind (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Also, the learning process must be contextualized. They argue that basing the curriculum on what students enjoy doing helps them go through the learning process with ease. In contrast, contextualized learning helps them view learning as a utilitarian process and not exam-oriented (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Furthermore, curriculums designed in such a manner allowing the brains of the learners to work naturally.
According to this theory, the method of assessment must facilitate learners’ ability to recognize their learning styles and preferences (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). The proponents also assert that tutors ought to teach their students while aiming at helping them understand. They believe that this objective is only achievable when the learning environment has very few threats and many challenging situations. Therefore, educators must develop complicated but interactive situations for effective learning. Learners also need to have their challenges (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Such challenges must make sense to each learner rather than being abstract. They argue that every person’s brain is unique. Therefore, educators should let learners modify their environments to suit their needs.
The proponents of this theory believe that sound learning occurs when learners solve real-life problems as opposed to theoretical learning. They further argue that the most reliable feedback to such challenges must relate to known facts and not from the teacher (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008).
Principles of the Brain-based Learning Theory
- The brain is complex, social and adaptive
- Emotions are critical to patterning
- The process of learning encompasses both conscious and unconscious activities
- Learning occurs in a developmental manner
- Proper learning occurs in the presence of challenges and the absence of threats
- Every human being’s brain is different (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008)
The Brain-based Learning Theory also divides the brain into the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. According to the proponents, the left hemisphere is responsible for the logical aspects of the mind (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). It helps in reading, writing, and speech. It is also responsible for the analytical functions of the brain. It helps make complex materials understandable, identify words, numbers, and letters. On the other hand, the right hemisphere is responsible for creativity. It is, usually, stimulated by images more than words. According to their observation, women’s left hemispheres are more dominant than their male counterparts (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). As such, they are more analytical, have better verbal skills, and solve problems better than men. On the other hand, men’s right hemispheres are dominant compared to women’s (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). As a result, they are good at painting and mathematics.
Cognitive Processing of Information
Cognitive processing of information refers to the storage and retrieval of data (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Several theories attempt to explain the processing of information. The most common are the Stage Theory, the Parallel-distributed Processing Theory, and the Connectionist Model.
According to the proponents, the human mind processes information just as the computer does (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). Therefore, information processing entails stimulation, storage, and response. The process involves three types of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Each of these memories has a specific function, but they complement each other in processing information. Lastly, both of them agree that the learning process is continuous.
The sensory memory processes all incoming stimuli and stores it for very short periods (Fischer & Immordino-Yang, 2008). It gives preference to only relevant information. The mind discards all the other information in preference for relevant information. When information moves from the sensory memory, it moves to the short-term memory.
The short-term memory receives information from the sensory memory and assigns meaning to it. The short -memory keeps information longer than the sensory memory but shorter than the long-term memory. Repetition, maintenance rehearsal, enhances the length of time information takes in this memory (Martinez, 2010). The long-term memory is not constrained to time (Martinez, 2010). This memory keeps information for a very long time. Information moves from the long-term to short-term memory and vice-versa due to encoding and retrieval (Martinez, 2010). Encoding refers to the assigning of meaning to the information leaving the short-term memory and the repetition of information. On the other hand, retrieval involves stimuli that remind individuals of past occurrences. Information stays in this memory longer than in the other two memories.
Similarities between the Brain-based Learning Theory and the Cognitive Information Processing Theory
The first similarity between these two theories is their recognition of the dynamism of knowledge. The Brain-based theory acknowledges that the brain is a social and ever-changing organ. At the same time, the Cognitive Information Processing Theory asserts that information goes through some transformations as it moves from one memory to the other. Secondly, they both recognize the existence of consciousness and unconsciousness in the learning process.
The Brain-based Learning Theory acknowledges that each person’s brain is unique, while the Cognitive Information Processing Theory generalizes the structure of the human mind. Secondly, the Brain-based Theory mainly talks about the brain, while the cognitive Information Processing Theory discusses the functioning of the mind.
Commentary on the two Theories
I think the Brain-based theory is not relevant to the learning process. The structure of the brain is not significant in the designing of teaching and learning curriculums. On the contrary, only the function of the brain should be used. I also do not believe that understanding the structure of the brain has made any contribution to enhancing the learning process. Many recent studies have rejected the proposition of the proponents that men and women are good in some fields of education because of the two hemispheres of the brain. However, I agree with this theory’s assertion that learning occurs developmentally. It is true that the human brain gathers information from its surroundings and builds on it as they interact with new environments and information. I also agree with its proposition that learning should occur in contexts and involve real-life challenges. Learners retain information better when they see how it functions in real life. Retention also improves when students experience challenges. They do not easily forget the challenges and the solutions they use in overcoming them.
On the other hand, the Cognitive Information Processing Theory is more applicable to a learning set-up compared to the Brain-based Learning Theory (Martinez, 2010). It analyzes the functions of the different types of memory. This theory helps people understand why learners forget and remember events and information they learned some time back. The processes of stimulation, transducing, encoding, and retrieval are very realistic. In real life, people tend to pay attention to the information they consider more important than other information. Such a process is what occurs in sensory memory.
Furthermore, when people repeatedly go through some information, they usually remember it more easily compared to what they do not repeat. They also remember experiences that happened a long time before when they experience similar situations. These events are the ones that happen in the short-term and long-term memories. Therefore, the cognitive information processing theory has the potential to improve future learning since it aims at improving the rate of retaining information.
Gardner’s Eight Intelligence
Gardner argues that different learners prefer various types of teaching methods. According to him, these preferences occur naturally (Omrod, 2008). He proposes eight bits of intelligence and the methods teachers can use in handling the various types of learners. They are verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (Westwood, 2008). In the analysis of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a teacher can apply all these eight bits of intelligence.
Teachers can use the visual-spatial style in teaching Brecht’s book by using the map of the Caucasian region (Westwood, 2008). They can also ask learners to draw the plan the fruit-growing community comes up with when their neighbors run away. Also, they can use the bodily-kinesthetic style by dramatizing the court scene. They can assign each student a role to play.
The entire play is a song. Therefore, teachers can teach students who are sensitive to rhythm and sound by allowing them to imitate the singer (Westwood, 2008). Tutors can also accompany the songs with instruments to make them enjoy the lessons. Some students enjoy the lesson when they interact with fellow students. Teachers can appeal to such students in the teaching of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by organizing a debate about whether the Galinx should be allowed back into their land or not. Similarly, learners that prefer intrapersonal methods of learning should be taught using introspection and take-home assignments (Westwood, 2008). For example, teachers can ask them to read the book and write an essay on the central theme of the book.
Some learners always think in words. Therefore, they understand better when information is passed to them in the form of words compared to when it is expressed using other forms. Teachers should ask such learners to recite the words Azdak says in the court scene. Some students enjoy the logical-mathematical style more than other methods of teaching. Teachers can teach by asking students to investigate the cause of the conflict between the got-rearing and the fruit-growing communities. The last group of students is that of individuals who love nature and outdoor experiences. Teachers should take the students to the field and demonstrate the nature of the vineyard the fruit-growing community developed.
Application of Brain Research in Class
Wolfe’s research on the brain made him conclude that the brain decays very fast. According to him, the brain forgets what people consider irrelevant (Gredler, 2009). Therefore, teachers can apply this knowledge in a class by relating class content to real-life events. The Fast ForWord discovery can be used in class to help improve the speed at which some students’ brains process phonemes (Gredler, 2009). Paula Tallal and Steve Miller carried out brain research that revealed that a particular computer game could raise the speed at which children process phonemes. Gordon Shaw’s discovery of the Mozart effect can also be used to improve the academic performance of students (Willingham, 2009). Students who listened to Mozart were discovered to do better in spatial-temporal reasoning compared to those who did not listen to Mozart.
Fischer, K. & Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2008). The Jossey Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher.
Gredler, M. E. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice (6th ed). New Jersey: Upper Saddle River.
Martinez, M. E. (2010). Learning and cognition: The design of the mind. Boston, MA Allyn and Bacon
Omrod, J. E. (2008). Human Learning (5th ed) New Jersey, NJ: Upper saddle river.
Westwood, P. (2008). Teaching methods. Camberwell: Acer Press.
Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for your classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.