What is Brain-Based Learning? Excerpt from our Newest Book Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner

Jennifer Stanchfield’s new book Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner connects the dots between experiential education, brain-based research, differentiation, social-emotional learning, 21st century career readiness, and a strength-based attitude toward teaching and group facilitation. Jen brings these enduring ideas and the research that supports them together, offering practical and meaningful ways to engage learners and create lasting lessons.

The heart of this book is to bring joy to learning and teaching; educators will find ways to build respect and compassion for learners and increase a sense of empowerment, belonging and fulfillment in learning. Over the next few weeks, we will be offering a few excerpts from the book. These posts explore these enduring educational principles and the science that supports them as well as practical activities and strategies to apply these ideas in your teaching or group facilitation.

IEILcover_webExcerpt One:

It is an exciting time to be an educator; especially one who believes in experiential approaches to teaching and asserts that an educator’s role is to take into account the whole person, preparing him or her for an active and productive role in society. A century ago, educational philosophers and scientists such as John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Lev Vygotsky, and Jean Piaget put forward the idea that learning should be more than just imparting knowledge.

These philosophers promoted what I think of as a commonsense approach, emphasizing that successful teaching and learning require meaningful experiences and interaction with others in an environment that intentionally encourages collaboration, problem solving, inquiry, and reflection. They believed effective teaching influences the whole person— emotionally, physically, socially, and intellectually—and that educators should engage learners in relevant experiences that relate and connect to real life, preparing them to be active members in a democratic society. These ideas put forward nearly a century ago are now being supported by scientific studies of the brain and how people learn, retain, and apply information.

What is Brain-Based Learning?
How can information from the field of neuroscience impact my teaching?

There is no scientific study more vital to man than the study of his own brain. Our entire view of the universe depends on it. —Francis H. C. Crick (from Scientific American, September, 1979)

The brain-based approach to teaching aims to help educators find the best research on teaching, learning, and the brain and apply that knowledge in their day-to-day practices to improve learning experiences and outcomes. In the past, there has been minimal focus on brain development, structure, and function as part of education training. Interaction between educators and neuroscientists has been rare.
Brain-Based approaches to teaching and group facilitation can be defined as the intentional use of strategies that are based on recent research on the brain and learning.
Educational Neuroscience is known by many as the field of mind, brain, and education. This field pulls together scientific research from neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, education theory, education technology and other fields to promote evidence informed teaching approaches. Proponents of this field believe that research on the brain and learning can be applied to education in a practical and meaningful way (Goswami, 2004).

During the past 20 years, especially the last ten, brain researchers have been able to study the living brain in ways they never have before, using MRI, brain mapping, and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans among other new technologies. They can view what happens in the brain when information enters and is categorized into short and long-term memory. Judy Willis (2013), a neurologist, teacher, and one of the leaders in this emerging field of educational neuroscience states: “Scans can literally show learning taking place.”
Research has dramatically changed what we know about the brain’s chemistry, structure, and function. Proponents of brain-based teaching and the emerging field of educational neuroscience believe it is imperative for educators to have an understanding of brain structure and function in order to improve their practice and help people understand how they learn best. There has been concern on the part of neuroscientists that information from brain research can be oversimplified or misrepresented in the educational field (Sousa, 2010). The growing educational neuroscience field aims to open the lines of communication between brain researchers and educators, bringing the best of quality research to front line educators (Learning & the Brain Society). This emerging field combines brain-research, educational psychology research, and other pedagogical research that suggests best practices for educators.

In Boston, at the 2013 Learning & the Brain Conference, experiential methods were referred to as a best practice in many workshops and keynote sessions. Though there is still much that is unknown about the brain, what has been learned supports and informs experiential education philosophy and methods. These findings from neuroscience are not just confirmatory, but explanatory because they can help educators make better choices about how to structure and facilitate learning experiences.

As an experiential educator, the methods I use to be more intentional and deliberate in designing my lessons are based on research on neuroplasticity, multiple pathways to learning, attention and retention, the impact of movement and emotions on learning, and the relationship between executive functioning and social-emotional learning. These findings from neuroscience give support to and align with the long-held philosophical tenets of experiential education and explain the importance of practices such as differentiation and social-emotional learning.

In chapter one, we explore the basics of these topics and their relevance to educators. This lays the foundation for the practical approaches used to enhance learning throughout this book. Table 1.1 on pages 16-17 is a summary of how experiential education principles connect with the brain-based tenets explored in this chapter.










Look for upcoming posts in this series offering experiential, brain-based activities to increase engagement, enliven academic training curriculum, and differentiate instruction. For more information about Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner: Experiential, Brain-Based Activities and Strategis to Engage, Motivate, Build Community and Create Lasting Lessons click here.

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