I was inspired this week when we had a huge audience for an online session about neuroplasticity with Mimeo – it was great to see so many people interested in how neuroscience and psychology relate to us in the world of learning.
There were lots of intriguing questions during the session and our host Katie has admirably collated them and some resources in her great blog https://www.mimeo.com/blog/resources-learning-neuroplasticity/ Thank you to everyone for your pearls of wisdom.
There are lots more questions to answer so read on for a few more. The rest are really good topics for more thought in future blogs. I hope you like this idea of using your questions as a starting point.
We had some discussion, and possible confusion, about an arm stroking experience. It was one of many specific studies done by neuroscientist Michael Merzenich to look at the effect of paying attention and the growth of neurons. What he showed was that brain cells fired and wired together more quickly when attention was focused on the activity, ie the arm stroking, rather than when the subject was distracted. It could have been any activity but this was the one he used which related to other work he was doing on neuroplasticity. The real world implication for us is when we want to help people learn, ie develop new neural connections, it may be more effective if we can help them focus their attention specifically on what they are learning. The learning needs to be stimulating enough to pay attention to – chalk and talk or death by bullet point are not going to do that.
Related to this Nanette asked ‘ is there a difference between getting someone’s attention with physical touch or simply getting someone’s attention with visual stimulation? Just curious how this affects on-line vs. traditional classroom learning.’ On a similar line Mel asked whether the specific media mattered in getting attention. You may already know your visual cortex has more processing power than other sensory areas and visual information does seem to have dominance over our other senses; sometimes called the Colavita effect. For instance a study in which they disguised the colour of wine made it very difficult for even expert wine tasters to accurately say they were drinking red or white wine. On the other hand very small amounts of information can really get your attention; such as that tiny grain of sand in your sock or an annoying whine when you’re trying to work; and as soon as you pay attention to something distracting it becomes even more noticeable. We can of course shut our eyes to visual stimulation but it’s harder to cut out our other senses so they often catch our attention.
One way we’ve found to capture attention in a very practical way is with music (thanks for the question Molly). When you’ve set some groups off into activities and you need them to return to the main group it can be hard to interrupt if they’re all busily chatting and creating ideas. We tend to play music whilst people work to reflect the pace we want them to participate at; slower music for reflective activity and faster music if we want speedy responses. To draw their attention back to the main activity we turn the music up loud for just a few seconds and then turn it off. People attend to the change in volume and break off from their activity at which point you can recapture their attention back to the ‘front’. This can work just as well in a virtual space as face to face training.
I hope that’s a few questions answered and thank you for posing them. We’ll use your other questions as starting points for blogs in the coming weeks so keep an eye out for your question and if you’ve more questions about what we do to make learning more ‘brain friendly’ then let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org