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Friday, October 21, 2011

Learning to learn: the neurocognitive vision

The idea of learning to learn is a strange subject for neurocognition. This is because the brain is designed for learning genetically and evolutionally, on it depends the survival of the species (Dzib Goodin, 2011).

But from this perspective, learning can be analyzed from at least 3 different levels such as the biological, cognitive and behavioral. Biology examines the process from genetic, molecular and cellular understanding, while cognitive perspective allows the understanding of children's skills over time. A behavioral analysis, learning focuses on patterns of action that can be repeated and therefore observable and measurable (Benares, Sebastian, Lipina, Segretín, Hermida and Colombo, 2010).

That is why the link between neurocognition, opened the door to analysis and explanation of cognitive disorders, seeking relationship between neuronal development and environmental relationships that enable the creation of an image in the world, primarily in children with a learning disability (Manning, 1990).

From the many studies, it clear to understand that learning requires strategies, of course, but mostly, it requires brain structures that give coherence to environmental information. A brain development begins within a few weeks after conception, works 24 hours for 7 days, even during sleep, it processes all kind of proteins and holds or removes the information depending how much valuable is. Do not stop learning, which is independent of a classroom, or mood of a teacher. Learns alone or accompanied, and works every day of our life.

From this perspective, the student has prior learning, which began before birth, genetic loads and strategies are needed to underpin what we already know or correct perceptual errors. The brain is flexible; it's not a rigid structure incapable of adapting to the needs. Learning is a pleasure, a need, the goal is to adapt to the environment and the use and management of information.

If the brain were a smartphone, we would say it's delivered with a predetermined with a program to assure it can be turn on. The experiences and strategies are applications that are slowly customizing the system, but unlike an edge technological apparatus, whose renewal involves a change of equipment, the human brain adapts itself forever in your carrying case, it grows and adjusted to the needs, but in the end, we must care the kit that was given at birth. Life depends of it.

Although the question from cognition is how do we learn?, the question from  neurocognition is what do we learn with?, so a deviation in the learning process is not conceived as a failure of the student, but as a wrong perception due that a neural network has been set wrongly or perceptual trouble, as in the case of studies about the difficulties of reading or writing (Dehaene, Nakamura, Jobert, Kuroki, Ogawa and Cohen, 2009).

In this sense, language disorders are analyzed from the auditory processing, which, in case of being affected may have impact not only in spoken language, but in reading and writing (Idiazábal Saperas Aletxa and Rodriguez, 2008).

In the ambit of arithmetic, the strategies must adjust once you know the difficulties of the student before the task; this is a common example that goes unnoticed by formal education:
+ 16  

An educator who has in mind the cognitive point of view, after seeing the error, will try a strategy to teach the child to add, but first,  will let him know what has done wrong. But if somoene takes 3 minutes to understand how this child is carrying out the process of addition, as  Jean Piaget mentioned it almost a century ago, we would   discover that this child knows to add, but  doesn't do it  vertically,  but horizontally.
+ 16 ®

In this case, the strategy to use depends on the student's prior knowledge, making a bridge between what student does and what is capable of achieving.

Furthermore, learning occurs not only in a classroom when the teacher is present, it must be considerate that child absorbs information from every enviromental interaction and every one has an impact, at one way or another on the brain.  Even if it's not obvious, children learn for example, rhythm and timing when they are listening to music and this opens benefit at other areas such as reading and math (Trainor, Shahin and Roberts, 2009).

Children learn from what they hear at home, which is why vicarious learning-by-example has such educational sense, the TV becomes an invaluable teaching tool, social relationships, provide information too, but above all this stimulate the brain, since the interact with others, and some of those skills can  not be shared when a child is reading a book or playing alone.

Learning is a process, whose progress is given step by step. It is built on a chain of events that together result in a skill. For example in the case of reading, student do not read phrases, reads one letter at a time, one word at a time and one phrase at a time, with practice, becomes a comprehension reading . However, the beginning, there are only points for the recognition of which differ depending on their location in space, and although it seems obvious, one a is different from a g (Forget, Buiatti, and Dehaene, 2009). This, to an expert reader, it’s the dumbest statement you can imagine, but for a newbie brain is not a remarkable difference. Especially if the task is not only view the letter, but write it in a specific context.

And things are further complicated when you have to do a task that involves two or more mental operations (Sackur and Dehaene, 2009). The process required to create micro tasks and keep sustained attention in order to achieve the motivation to get the goal.

Other aspects will become a breeding ground for learning, for example, there have been studies showing that the place of children in families make a difference in schools (Zajonc, 1976), and the idea maybe is not preposterous considering that the more children at home, you may be achieved peer modeling and scaffolding, which benefit the way to grasp.

All kind of stimuli have an impact on the way the brain learns through the day. Since the biochemical exchanges that are triggered as part of the brain processes that require a specific balance (Cortes Romero, Galindo, Isasmendi and Flores, 2011). There will also be joining the memory process, which unlike the perceptual processes requires the development of the hypothalamus and health (Baddeley, 1992).

And finally, learning depends of the specific action of neurons and their relationships (Barlow, 1985). Thus, difficulties in the learning process do not depend on a child who refuses to learn or is denied to it. Nor is solely based on the strategies and experience from a teacher front the group, or the theoretical perspective of the curriculum. Learning has to focus on students and their needs as well as their usefulness.

Learning to learn is how to survive and why not?, learn to adapt to the circumstances and draw from them, the better.

Alma Dzib Goodin
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