The Neuroscience of Learning

It seems everywhere I turn I’m hearing about recent breakthroughs in our understanding of human brain functionality. Chapter 3 of the PIDP 3250 textbook provides an excellent discussion of the neurology of learning, remembering, and associating (Barkley, 2010). The Canadian Association for Neuroscience website has a recent article  about a 2014 UBC study that identified a specific molecular change that happens with our brain when we learn and remember. (Canadian Association for Neuroscience, 2016). It’s an exciting time to be and educator.


It’s also a scary time. As the mystery of how we learn, understand, and recall is revealed, there are some hard truths that we have to accept as educators. We now know that retention requires the transfer of information from short- to long-term memory. According to our course text, “the encoding process from short-term memory to retention in long-term memory takes time and usually occurs during deep sleep” (Barkley, 2010) . We can coerce, demand, and entice all we want, but if this transfer hasn’t taken place in the form of permanent cellular changes, our students won’t be able to recall the information any more than they could fly. Now that we have this incredible insight into the mechanics of learning, we have a responsibility to facilitate an approach and environment that gives our students a fighting chance to learn and retain the material.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). In E. F. Barkley, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (p. 13). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Canadian Association for Neuroscience. (2016). Learning new ideas alters brain cells. Retrieved from Canadian Association for Neuroscience.






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