The brain & learning – what bit does what?
Without diluting the importance of the concepts involved in this article which would be discussed in a scientific manner as they demand, we would start it in a lighter vain with a story. The story may apparently look like a little disjointed but a reflection on it would bring out its relevance as this article relates to the brain and it may be necessary understand the unpredictable ways it functions. Chemical balance in the brain is reported to be playing a crucial role in determining the orderly behavior of human beings and when there is a wrong or excessive input of chemicals, it can cause havoc in the behavior of the individuals which can even make them criminals. ‘Accelerated Learning’ can be considered, in a sense, as chemicals and its inputs into the learners mind should be carefully crafted for which an adequate knowledge of manner in which the brain functions should be understood. We do not have any doubts about the relevance of the story as it had appeared in a website which deals with ‘Accelerated Learning Techniques’. However, we do not have an idea as to whether it is real or imaginary. Let us come to it with out any further delay.
1.1: A Gardner and his employer:
An aristocratic lady engaged a Gardner obviously, whose credentials were unblemished. Every morning he got the instructions for the day’s job which mainly related to spraying of insecticides on the plants and flowers and went about it without making any big issue out of it. In one such morning which incidentally was also hot, he felt a need to relive himself and having decided not to bother his employer with a request to show him the rest room, he went about this act by defacing one of the walls of the garden. Unfortunately, not for him, but for the lady, the reason of which we would come to know about as we read it through, the lady made an unscheduled visit to the garden and chide him off. Much to her aghast, he attacked her with a gardening tool which must have been quite sharp as it killed her. He was tried for murder but his defense consul submitted that his client had lost liquids due to the hot morning and inhaled though inadvertently some of the insecticide spray meant for the plant. The chemical ingredients of the spray had changed his character transforming him from a sober and well behaved gentleman into an aggressive person which made him to indulge in this unholy activity. That he was acquitted is beside the point but the crucial point for the purpose of this article is that mind or brain is an ever changing chemical soup and though improvements could be brought out by, changing the soup yet it would not always guarantee positive results. If one inhales the wrong chemicals, it would mean ruin of one’s proper behaviour in the conduct of life and on the contrary inhaling the right chemicals would turn him or her into a genius. Well, what is the connection between this and Accelerated Learning or the Multiple Intelligence Theory of Howard Gardner or for that mater the Super learning techniques? The answer is that they all try to inject the right chemicals into the brains of the learners to make them extra-ordinary, if not, genius.
2.0: The Brain and Learning:
Now, we would get into the analysis of the subject much more seriously which is the objective of this article as such an analysis would enrich the understanding of all of us of the role the brain plays in refining ‘Accelerated/Super learning techniques.
Brain research indicates that for effective learning, both body and mind should be involved. According to Zull (2002), the body and brain interacts in two distinct manners. The nervous system spread over through out the body continuously keeps the mind appraised of what is happening within the body at any moment. Secondly, the hypothalamus sends the chemical (the importance of our story could be understood from this) messages through the blood stream which creates feeling ranging from exhilaration to depression. The chemical composition or chemical like factors determine the behavior of the brain.
2.1: Gender difference in the Learning Process;
It may be of interest to know what the research thinks of the influence of gender in the brain learning, because, it directly influences the refinement of techniques. Two prominent educational researches, Nunley (2004, 2003) and Sax (2005) appear to be holding opposite views in this regard. Nunley opines that there is no difference between them and it is the variation among individuals that matter the most. On the other hand, Sax has argued that gender difference does bring in a structural difference in the way the brain is made up of and hence different techniques would be needed in the designing of educational programmes to bring in the best in respective genders. For the purpose of this article, suffice to say for the purpose of this article that the debate between ‘nurture’ and ‘nature’ continues so that we can concentrate on some of the other important issues. Nevertheless, it may be of interest to note that Nunley believes that behaviour and learning patterns get to be established in the early part of life.
2.2: What bit does what?
The hypothalamus is considered the primitive region in the brain which is believed to be driving behavior. It is the reservoir and takes charge of such Intuitive traits as anger, aggression, fear etc. When any one of them is triggered, it acts, rather reacts fast producing the famous ‘fight-flight’ response. In addition, it controls such functions as hunger, thirst, sex drive, keeping the body temperature in balance and the hormonal system. That bid known as ‘amygdale’ is found to be responsible in generating feelings of love, jealousy, attraction, (and getting attracted) and kindness. By performing the functions of forward and backward link, the ‘hippocampus’ acts as a connector between amygdale and hypothalamus forward and in the process aids the formation of new memories. In the hierarchy of god’s scheme of things, ‘the top layer of the brain is occupied by ‘cerebral cortex’ and it is in fact the focus of the researchers as it carries an ocean or possibilities for learning.
2.3: How does the above matter for Accelerated/super learning techniques:
Well, your question is genuine and here are the answers.
All the human being and learners without exception want to be bestowed with a feeling of control in order to ensure their survival in this world and hypothalamus not only precisely but in a scientific manner fulfils this function. A precondition for learning is the creation of trust and safety (not necessarily, in that order but both are needed) in the students in a learning environment. The importance of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence or principles of Accelerated or Super learning techniques acquire significance in this regard, as learners accomplish this control when they have a choice of activities. Through such a process, the learners take control of their behaviour as cerebral cortex facilitates rational and logical thinking. The Accelerated/Super learning techniques, multiple intelligences as logical, linguistic, musical, inter-personal, kinesthetic among others strive to fulfill the golden rule that “every student deserves a special education” (NUNLEY, p.9).
2.4: The need to be bold to acknowledge gender difference:
Sax is rather emphatic in the statement about the prevalence of innate differences in the brain structure between the sexes and further emphasizes that it is high time that one comes out of the chauvinistic bent of mentality that stands in the way of acknowledging the existence of such differences. If learning is not ‘ gender neutral’, the learning techniques cannot also be ‘gender-neutral’ and consequently gender stereotypes would produce only promote mediocrity in leaning that serves neither the men nor the women.
2.5: The implications:
The research in the activities of the brain especially relating to the brain is bringing out more and more the fundamental difference in its stricture between men and women. In the men, the left hemisphere of the brain specializes in the learning of languages and the right for recognizing spatial concepts where as in women the asymmetry is much less noticeable (SAX, 2005). “Medical Research in the stroke patients further support the above in bringing out the manner the male and female brains are organized, with the functions more compartmentalized in male and more globally distributed in female brains respectively” (SAX, p.12). Without getting more technical, let us look at some of the implications of these.
The above evidences suggest that females are better equipped to interpret facial expressions than their opposite sex and this is further reinforced in the observations that infant girls prefer to look at people’s faces directly. To put it succinctly, females are better at trying to find answers to ‘what is it’ whereas the men try to find answers to ‘where is it going’?
The more we probe the more would it be interesting but we have to bring this article somewhere to a logical conclusion. It could be seen when the key words regarding brain learning is typed into any search engine one is swamped with the functioning of the right and left hemisphere of the brain and how they have to be utilized for achieving a harmonious learning. We differ from the rest in that we need a fresh thinking from the sterol-typed manner these sensitive subjects are treated. We promote human resources and hence our approach is towards tapping it consistent with new research rather than repeating what is already going on…
Accelerated/Super learning techniques or for that matter if one were to realize the full benefits of the hard work of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, according to Nunley (as at least we infer) one should focus on the development of the faculty of critical thinking. Again, like the exercise which is needed to keep the muscles from attrition, the brain also needs exercise to keep it active and achieve maximization of performance.
Broadly, a learning programme should consist three layers, namely, (a) gathering information and knowledge, (b) applying, acquiring, and demonstrating the mastery of them and (c) transform them into critical thinking. In what bit does what, we can conclude while not undermining the other parts of the brain, it can safely be said that the ‘cerebral cortex’ should be engaged the most in order to maximize learning.
Nunley, K (2003): A student’s brain: The parent/teacher manual, Morris Publishing, Nebraska
Sax, L. (2005): Why gender matter, Doubleday, New York
Zull, J. (2002): The art of changing the brain, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.