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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Neurocognition and learning

There is no doubt that education is the best investment for a country. Not only culturally, but economically, as several studies have indicated, the more educated is a nation, its health systems are based on preventive and less on emergency medicine (Albuquerque, 2004). However, many countries are far from educational, economic and health care goals.

But when anybody reads so much about advances and researches about learning from many perspectives, and each month there is a conference somewhere where exhibitors aware of researches that certainly can change the course of education at any country, we only can wonder why all those words are just a speech, but it does not apply.

Perhaps the contributions of neuroscience in education will also remain in the trash, but there is no doubt that maybe can allow changing the thinking about learning. From this perspective, there are not lazy students; there are brains with no cognitive tools or strategies to deal with the environment.

Learning is constructed as an evolutionary process set for the survival of the species (Poch, 2001), which allows adaptation to the environment. It is not a political speech or an obligation. In fact, learning as a principle is a joyful act, which allows neural networks because something is repeated over and over again, leading to the perfection of execution whether motor or cognitive action (Dzib Goodin, 2011).

Who has not enjoyed the laughter of a child asking to repeat a movement, a word or a game?

This process, undoubtedly requires a brain, which shapes the connections, but it’s not immune to evolution, it will maintain stronger neural networks, keeping those neurons that become more experts on any action and make them grow, often those usual actions are those that produces more pleasure, but learning will need other processes like memory and emotion (Delaney, Nghiem, Waldum, 2009; Lin, Sprarahen, Blythe and Zida, 2011).

At this sense, teaching can not be seen then as a copy or a transmission of ideas or knowledge, as if you someone is scanning something and sticking in another file, it’s an act that requires understanding of each other, usual discussions between who  teaches and who  needs to learn (McGinnis and Roberts Harris, 2009), it’s understanding how far anybody can reach with a brain that never stops  changing its shape, adapting to multiple cognitive, environment and health needs, seeking efficiency and at the same time evolving (Padilla Magaña, 2003, Dick and Roth, 2008).

That's why the vision of neuroscience opens up new ways of seeing to the learner, not trying to change all knowledge built so far, but it can become a bridge to the application of new technologies to education, it’s possible to use it as a door to developing the talents of a most practical way, not only bringing together children that shows skills based on a  test that sometimes forgets the potential of every one, beyond what is already (Benares, Lipina, Segretín, Hermida and Colombo, 2010).

Attempting to standardize the learning has been the goal of education; realize that not all are suitable for the same things, is a goal of neuro education. There is enough evidence showing that using strong neural networks can benefit the weaker networks, that's why telling to a child what he or she can not know or do, and forcing him or her to learn it is not the best way, because it will go against the principle of learning as an adaptation to the environment.

Recognize that neural networks of language, reading, writing and mathematics, only cross each other but every one evolves in a different way  (Pinel and Dehaene, 2009), opens the possibility of creating new learning strategies from what it is possible to do and not trying to explain why it’s not possible, and maybe it would eliminate some tension among children and math and reading shouldn’t be a real headache for both educators and students, because everybody would assume that there are different capacities and knowledge is acquired under previous learning, and not only under the old idea: YOU MUST LEARN THIS WAY.

I know this can sound silly, but curiously, the brain has been accompanied by learning from the early development of the neocortex, but it has been just recently its incorporation into the issue of learning. Neuroscience has not been required, but now there are observers and knowledgeable people with a little creativity to allow children to create better ways to explore their own potential. Personally that's my bet.

Alma Dzib Goodin 

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Alburquerque, F. (2004) Desarrollo económico local y descentralización en America Latina. Revista de la CEPAL. 82. 157- 173.

Benaros, S., Lipina, J.,  Segretín, S., Hermida, J., & Colombo, J. (2010) Nuerociencia y educación: hacia la construcción de puentes interactivos. Rev Neurol.  50 (3): 179-186.

Delaney, P., Nghiem, N., Waldum,E. (2009) The selective directed forgetting effect: Can people forget only part of a text? The quaterly Journal of experimental psychology. 62 (8) 1542-1550.

Dick, U. y Roth, G. (2008) Intelligence evolved. Scientific American mind. Vol. 19. num. 4. 70-77.

Dzib Goodin, A. (2011) Introducción a los procesos neurocognitivos del aprendizaje: lenguaje, lectura, escritura y matemáticas. Servicios Editoriales Balám. México. En prensa.

Lin, J., Sprarahen, M., Blythe, J. y Zida, M. (2011) EmoCog: Computational Integration of Emotion and Cognitive architecture. Procedings of the 24th International Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society Conference. 111-116.

McGinnis, R. and Roberts Harris, D. (2009) A new vision for teaching science. Scientific American Mind. 20 (5) 62-67.

Padilla Magaña, R. (2003) La comprensión del cerebro. Hacia una nueva ciencia del aprendizaje. Perfiles educativos. 3 (5) 224-227.

Pinel, P. and Dehaene, S. (2009) Beyond Hemispheric Dominance: Brain Regions Underlying the Joint Lateralization of Language and Arithmetic to the Left Hemisphere. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 21 (5). 1–19.

Poch, M.L. (2001) Neurobiología del desarrollo temprano. Contextos educativos. 4. 79-94.

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