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What happens in our brain when we learn?

This video explores how memories are formed in our brains, and what happens inside when we are learning. Let's explore.

In the video, we explained how physical changes are made in the brain when lasting learning is created.

It’s important to remember that although technology improves at an exponential rate (Moore’s Law states the processing power of a computer chip doubles every two years), humans do.

Technology can help us achieve our goals

To return to our analogy of learning with physical fitness, technology can help us achieve our goals like training machines help us exercise in a gym. However, as with exercise, we need to devote effort to the process.

Despite the use of the term updating to describe healthcare professionals’ ongoing learning, information cannot be transferred into our brains at high speed like a PC that updates itself in minutes.

An old saying offers this piece of wisdom:

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand.

The origin of this saying has been lost in time, but it remains relevant because it reminds us that we need to actively engage with a new skill and knowledge to truly embed them in our brains.

Here, ‘Do’ does not only mean practising a physical skill. It can mean discussing a concept with colleagues (face to face or online), putting something into your own words or solving a problem. Or it can mean listening to a well-told story that conjures up images in your mind.

Spreading out our learning

A single visit to learning is rarely sufficient to ensure knowledge and skills are retained permanently and easily accessible for future use. Three consecutive hours spent learning a topic are less effective than three separate hours spread over a period of days.

The technique of spreading learning over a period of time is known as Spacing. It ensures we access the memory again and in doing so strengthen mental connections.

Technology can help us learn by providing a simulation of real-life situations, by enabling communication with colleagues and tutors and in many other helpful ways. Online courses such as this one are good examples. However, we need to expend targeted effort in order to grow lasting mental connections.

What does this mean for trainers and learning designers?

Most of us know that to become fit, we need to commit physical effort. However, not everyone is as aware that effort is also required for learning to take place. A key part of a trainer’s or learning designer’s role is to encourage learners to devote effort and not just take the approach that appears easiest.

Although the provision of training in one condensed visit may be easy to organise, spacing learning out over a period of days is more likely to create lasting learning.

Learning in a virus-impacted time

As more training is moved online in some form because of social distancing requirements, spaced learning becomes easier to facilitate.

Online learning (live and non-live) can be made available in chunks that are spaced over a period of days. Each one can begin with a short recall activity which will strengthen the memory of the previous sections.

This article is from the free online

Train the Healthcare Trainer

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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