The science of learning uses research from a range of disciplines, including cognitive psychology, neuroscience and education to understand how learning occurs in the brain and how learning experiences can be most effective. It is a rigorous, evidence-based approach to understanding how we learn and how to improve learning outcomes.
Over the years, many theories of learning have been put forth. What is a learning theory? It is simply an attempt to explain how people learn, retain and apply knowledge and skills. Some of the most influential theories of learning include:
- Behaviorism is a theory of learning that focuses on observable behavior. According to this theory, learning occurs through the reinforcement of targeted behaviors and the punishment of other behaviors.
- Learning Process Theory comes from cognitive psychology. It focuses on mental processes such as attention, memory, visual and auditory processing and the integration of sensory input, as the basis for learning. Those mental processes are also called cognitive skills.
- Constructivism is the theory of learning that emphasizes the role of the learner and underscores the necessity of their active involvement in order to develop understanding and acquire skills. It emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning.
- Social learning theory emphasizes the role of social interactions in learning. It posits that learning occurs through observation, imitation and the modeling of behavior by others. It emphasizes the importance of feedback and the social context of learning.
The science of learning enables us to examine these various theories through the lens of neuroscience research and to take and apply the aspects of them that are supported by the evidence.
Among the most important findings in the body of research on these theories is that cognitive skills predict 50% of the variance in academic outcomes, more than any other factor in the learning and teaching equation.
Importance of the Science of Learning for Educators
The science of learning is important for educators because it has the potential to improve education at all levels from preschool to adult education. It can help improve teaching practices because educators who understand how people learn can design more effective teaching methods and learning environments. This can lead to better outcomes for students and increased engagement and motivation.
It can also help educators and learners be more efficient in the learning process. For example, by using techniques such as spaced repetition and interleaving, learners can retain information more effectively and with less effort. The science of learning also helps apply our understanding of individual differences in cognitive skills to personalize learning experiences and better meet the needs of each learner.
Importance of the Science of Learning for Kids
The science of learning is important for kids because it can help them become more successful learners and develop a positive attitude toward learning. When kids understand how their brains process information, they can use learning strategies that help them learn more efficiently and effectively. This helps build self-confidence.
Additionally, when kids know that cognitive skills can be improved and developed to a greater extent than most people realize, learning becomes easier and fun. When learning experiences are engaging and motivating for kids, they stay interested and invested in their learning and persist through the inevitable frustrations and difficulties of learning new things.
Cognitive Principles of Learning
Neuroplasticity Fuels Learning
The general term for the brain’s ability to change and to develop in response to its environment and the demands being placed on it is “neuroplasticity.” Essentially, the human brain develops by organizing itself, creating and pruning neural pathways, based on its unique experiences. The fact that the brain is constantly changing means that learning can happen throughout our lives.
We build new knowledge and skills on top of what we already know. Therefore, effective learning experiences must be built on our prior knowledge and connect new information to existing neural networks.
Practice and Repetition Build Automaticity
When an individual performs an activity repeatedly, the skill becomes automatic (embedded in procedural memory) and does not require conscious thought to execute (like riding a bike or driving to a familiar location). Practice strengthens the connections among neurons in our brains making information more easily retrievable.
Feedback provides learners with information about their performance and helps them adjust their understanding and behavior accordingly. Feedback must be both timely and actionable. Immediate feedback enables error correction, and faster, more accurate learning. The speed of feedback allows for more repetitions to be executed in a specific amount of time.
Learning for Transfer
Transfer refers to the ability to apply knowledge and skills to new situations. It is also sometimes referred to as generalization of learning. Effective learning experiences should promote transfer by emphasizing the application of knowledge and skills in diverse contexts while integrating multiple skill sets.
Attention and meaningful participation in a learning experience are essential. Active engagement promotes deeper learning as learners must actively process and apply information. Engagement is necessary to activate and strengthen the neural networks where the skills and information are being processed in order for them to be retrieved and used later.
BrainWare Learning Company: Applying the Science of Learning
Applying the science of learning means using research-based strategies and principles to optimize learning experiences and improve learning outcomes. This includes:
- Helping students improve their cognitive capacity enables them to fulfill their potential as learners. Developing cognitive capacity through cognitive training can also help students access learning experiences in a more equitable way. BrainWare accomplishes this by offering the most researched, comprehensive, integrated cognitive skills training tool delivered online.
- Designing effective learning experiences by applying the science of learning involves creating learning environments that provide opportunities for active engagement, feedback and personalization. Effective learning experiences are engineered into every BrainWare program, including our cognitive training tools and our professional development.
- Using evidence-based interventions, the science of learning helps us understand learning in general as well as how to help students acquire specific skills. Interventions can be developed that are more effective, more personalized and work more quickly. Developing stronger cognitive skills through BrainWare’s cognitive training programs improves the effectiveness of other interventions and allows for results to be visible more quickly.
- Personalized learning experiences might involve providing learners with choice and flexibility in how they learn and how they demonstrate what they have learned. It takes into account both learner preferences as well as the differences and variability of learner profiles in terms of their cognitive skills. The cognitive assessment and personalized learning strategies BrainWare delivers are fundamental to the effective personalization of learning experiences.
- The science of learning suggests that we need to continually monitor learning experiences and make adjustments based on data and feedback. As we like to say at BrainWare, it’s all about the data. Not only do we continually monitor and evaluate our programs so that we can make adjustments, but we also support families, schools and other organizations we work with to do the same.