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Neuroplasticity explained

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Neuroplasticity is an essential concept for educators to understand as it underpins all learning experiences. Neuroplasticity fundamentally is the brain’s ability to change and reorganise itself.

For many years, scientists believed the brain was fixed. fMRI scanning and research have now revealed that the brain is, in fact, pliable and malleable, hence the term neuroplasticity:

  • Neuro = nervous system / brain,
  • Plastic = which comes from the Greek word plasto’s meaning mouldable.

The brain’s ability to grow, change or adapt

Neuroscience is uncovering thousands of new understandings of the brain every month. According to neuroscientists, our brains consist of billions of neurons that are capable of connecting to thousands of other neurons. Each of these neurons can potentially have thousands of synapses and connections to other neurons, thereby providing trillions of opportunities for learning and brain development.

Every time a person experiences something or learns something new, they are adjusting or forming new neural connections and harnessing the power of Neuroplasticity. In simple terms, if just one of the billion pre-synaptic neurons releases a neurotransmitter that binds to and activates a receptor on the post-synaptic neuron, a connection is made.

If a connection is used regularly or practised, then the neural pathway is strengthened and becomes more effortless thereby confirming the well-established neuroscience saying:

“Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together”.

If a pathway is not used frequently, then the connection is weakened or lost, solidifying the principle of “use it or lose it”.

Science has revealed a clear relationship between the degree of neuronal plasticity and age. Research has discovered that synaptic connections increase between birth and the age of approximately two or three years and then reduce by nearly half during adolescent years because of synaptic pruning (deleting the neural connections that are no longer necessary or useful). This explains why learning a new skill, like riding a bike, learning a new language or musical instrument, or learning a challenging sport, is so much easier for children then it is for adults.

Educators need to understand that Neuroplasticity underpins all normal brain development and is the basis for all their students’ learning. As a result, educators can be seen as neuroplasticians. Fundamentally, they are changing and moulding the brains of their students.

The concept or understanding of Neuroplasticity can be applied to many learning activities ranging from simple cognitive skills, such as learning the alphabet, to the learning of complex algorithms, or to simple physical skills, like riding a bike, to learning to an elaborate gymnastics routine.

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This article is from the free online course:

Neuroplasticians and Neuromyths

Central Queensland University