May 2017
NEUROSCIENCE

How do we learn?

written by
Loïc De Waele
Chief Science Officer @ DXTR Labs

How do we learn? I’m not talking about memorising every capital in the world, no. Not that it’s not important at all, when any such information can be found within seconds by googling on your smartphone, it feels a bit pointless spending time to memorise these things. I’m talking about how we learn the stuff that can’t be googled. How do we learn planning ahead, solving problems, controlling our automatisms, filtering relevant stimuli, etc. These things are so much more important than mindless memorization as they will give us an edge in life.

If Sherlock Holmes was able to memorise every hint/clue relevant for a case but unable to deduce the culprit from them, memorising them would be useless for him.

‍https://pixabay.com/en/question-mark

If Sherlock Holmes was able to memorise every hint/clue relevant for a case but unable to deduce the culprit from them, memorising them would be useless for him.

So how do we learn these skills? To answer that, let’s first look at how our brain works without going too much into details. What happens in our brain while we learn is a complicated subject with a lot of areas open for further study.

However, we already do know some interesting stuff on how our brain develops from birth to adulthood, which is the interesting part for this blog.

How our brain forms while growing is coded in our DNA, the global shape and hierarchy of it will be the same for everyone. So before we’re even born, our DNA says “create the frontal lobes, the temporal lobes, the occipital lobes “ etc. It also says, “arrange the occipital lobes for vision, the frontal lobes for more advanced cognition”, and so on. All those things are set before we even start learning.

But what happens if we do not learn them? An interesting example comes from vision. If all adults have their vision primarily processed in the occipital lobe, what happens if we’re born blind? To put it very simply, our brain is ready for that eventuality and starts using the occipital lobes for new functions. These functions are decided not by our DNA, but this time by our experiences.

Our brain is very sensitive to experience and all that’s coded in our DNA is merely a blueprint. The actual construction differs quite a lot and is made from all the things we do, hear, and experience.

What does this teach us? How our brain forms and thus what we can do depends on experience.

OK, cool, we all knew that already. Is that just it? Well no, obviously doing the same “2 + 2 = 4” addition over and over again won’t keep on making us better at mathematics. That’s why theories such as Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” try to explore what makes better learning experiences. For Vygotsky, the best learning experiences are when we are guided by someone more experienced in a topic/activity, which we don’t yet master ourselves, and only then slowly we start to act for ourselves – with less and less help from our mentor.

These are key concepts for us at DXTR. We believe that the best learning experiences are when kids are doing things that are difficult and need some guidance, and then slowly they manage without it. This is something we always strive to achieve in all playDXTR games: an adequate difficulty, dynamically personalised to the individual player to ensure learning, and providing adapted hints and advice along the way – presented in a playful and engaging way.

We believe that the best learning experiences are when kids are doing things that are difficult and need some guidance, and then slowly they manage without it.

By leveraging the connection between our building blocks and games with many different focus areas – from attention, planning, dexterity, memory, etc – we create a universe full of experiences that are not only fun but also provide the best learning experiences in a variety of areas.

Personally, I think that great learning experiences are grounded in curiosity. It is curiosity that makes us interested in things we don’t know, can’t do, and curiosity makes us want to learn more about them. Curiosity therefore constantly creates new challenges for us, to experience new things and, in doing so, is a strong vector of intelligence (whatever “intelligence” really is).

We should all have a curious mind, question everything, and strongly encourage our children to be curious about life, the universe, and everything and everyone around them.

https://www.pexels.com/...curiosity

We should all have a curious mind, question everything, and strongly encourage our children to be curious about life, the universe, and everything and everyone around them.

I’ll finish with a small anecdote about how our fear of failure and mentality as parents can influence learning in our children.

A little girl wants to open a bottle of ketchup for the first time. Her dad, however, immediately forbids her because she can’t do that – she will spill everything. While he may be right, he also prevents her from learning how to do it. Her father really should encourage her to do so and help her in the process the first times. Why is the lid tight? Why is the bottle sealed? Why is ketchup red most of the time?

Our attitude and actions towards our kids and how they experience the universe, on a daily basis, makes the world of a difference. Be curious about every experience together with your kids and remember that everything is a mystery.

Loïc De Waele

Loïc is the neuroscience guy. His huge interest in brains originates from him missing one. Having studied neuropsychology, he is always making sure everything we do is good for your brain.

Spending his time pondering the big questions of how to combine cutting-edge neuroscience with play, in a way that yields unprecedented insights.

Secret power: Dares to have an unfunny joke in his short description.

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