Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The New Science of Teaching and Learning

What do you get when you mix psychology, education, and neuroscience? For Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, you get MBE (Mind, Brain, and Education) Science.  I recently looked at her book The New Science of Learning: Using the Best of Mind, Brain, and Education Science in the Classroom.  It described what so-called facts about learning are definitely true (i.e. proven by all three areas), probably true, intelligent speculation, and definitely not true, followed by lists of tenets and principles of learning.

Some of the facts that have been well established include:
  • human brains are as unique as faces
  • all brains are not equal: context and ability influence learning
  • the brain is changed by experience
  • the brain connects new information to old
 Some of the things that are very likely true include:
  • emotions have a big impact on learning, from what students think their teachers think of them to getting good support from others
  • good nutrition, water, and sleep are all important for learning
  • we notice novelty and look for patterns
  • humans are innately curious and driven to learn
  • active construction of meaning should be encouraged
  • memory + attention = learning
These are the tenets of individual learning, each of which is supported by the facts above and/or those not listed:
  1. Motivation impacts how teachers teach and how students learn
  2. Stress impacts learning
  3. Anxiety blocks learning opportunities
  4. Depressive states can impede learning
  5. Other peoples’ tones of voices are quickly judged in the brain
  6. Peoples’ faces are judged nearly instantaneously in the brain
  7. Movement can enhance learning
  8. Humour can enhance learning opportunities through laughter
  9. Nutrition impacts learning
  10. Sleep is important for memory consolidation
  11. Learning styles (cognitive preferences) are due to the unique structure of individual brains
  12. Teaching students individually enhances learning

When thinking about these tenets (and the universal learning principles I did not list), something really jumped out at me: I noticed that digital games could support them all rather well.  For example, games are motivating; that one's easy.  Affectively designed games could help reduce the anxiety, depression, and bad kinds of stress, while introducing the good kind of stress (eustress) through challenge.  Health related tenets, like nutrition and sleep, could potentially be supported through persuasive games that are designed to encourage healthy behaviour.  I think that a lot of what James Paul Gee has to say about games is also supported nicely by MBE Science, though he does not explicitly connect to that research.

Another thing I noticed about the known truths of learning is that they coincide nicely with Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. I previously wrote about this book in relation to computer science education in a short series of posts here, here, and here.  I'll leave it to those interested to consider the connections, and recommend both books to learn more.


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