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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second [Paul Howard-Jones] How should we think about learning in an educational situation like a classroom? We can think about the learning processes involved in terms of three categories. Those involved with engagement. Those for building knowledge and understanding. And those for consolidating our learning. Engagement involves those subcortical emotional processes. Building new knowledge demands activity here in the frontal working memory regions of the brain. Consolidation will shift and distribute that activity to other parts of the cortex. Now we’re not talking here about any three stage model of pedagogy. You can’t, for example, use the categories, engage, build, and consolidate for a three part lesson. In fact, in everyday teaching and learning all three types of process might occur simultaneously or almost simultaneously.

Skip to 1 minute and 8 seconds For example, if a teacher uses a quiz to introduce a new topic and link it to yesterday’s learning, then a quiz with points is very engaging. New ideas are being built, old ones are being revised and consolidated. So everything is essentially happening almost at once. But breaking down the learning processes into engage, build and consolidate, is a helpful way for organizing our thoughts about what the science means for teaching and learning.

Learning in the brain: engage, build, consolidate

We’ve categorised learning into three processes: engagement, building knowledge and consolidation.

Each of these processes uses a different part of the brain, but together learning involves all the brain. In the next four weeks we will look at the effect of anxiety on our ability to learn, working memory, cognitive load, how new understanding is built, making connections in the brain and brain plasticity.

A note of caution: these three categories of process do not result in a three-stage lesson plan. As Paul explains in the video, these processes could be happening at the same time.

Engage, Build, Consolidate - three processes of learning which will be explored in this course


We’ve now looked at the different parts of the brain and a representation of learning with three categories of process. We’ll look at each of these categories in more detail over the coming weeks.

These words may already be familiar to you, or you have an idea of what they mean from an educational perspective. One of the challenges of using research is mapping definitions of common words from the scientific domain into your working context.

Sharing and learning

This course is designed so you learn with your fellow participants, particularly via the discussions. By writing comments you take the time to think and reflect on your understanding. Share your thoughts and questions about the course and your experiences of learning and teaching. If you need help, post a question as a comment in the relevant course step. If you can help a fellow learner, don’t be afraid to reply and make a suggestion.

In the comments below, put your definition of engagement, building knowledge and consolidation. We’ll ask you to compare this later in the course.

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The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre