Brains, Learning, and Problem Solving… Oh My!!!

This week we are going to look at the brain to analyze how individuals retain information and solve problems.  As I am on my journey to learn how the brain stores information into its long  term memory, I came across some pretty interesting articles and websites that not only challenged my thinking but allowed me to wonder just how effective are we really making our trainings! I ask that question because as instructional designers, we hold our techniques and theories on delivering effective training close to the vest. We take pride in our work and often times hate to part with methods that we have mastered and put into practice for some time. What I have learned in the past two weeks, is that it is important to be flexible and ready to learn new approaches to instructional design. This will allow us to provide optimal learning environments for  our participants and improve our skills as professional trainers and instructional designers.

First, I would like you to close your eyes and take a stroll down memory lane ( okay don’t close your eyes I would rather you continue reading, but you catch my drift.)I would like for you to remember how you retained information when you were younger. Recall back to your college days and think about all of the tricks you would use to try to retain information. As a child, I remember watching the Bill Cosby spin-off show a ” Different World” and seeing one of the college students studying upside down. I remember thinking. ” Isn’t that a cool way to study! I’m going to do that in college!” Once I went off to school, I would use many tricks to retain information. The most memorable study trick I can recall is a group of my girlfriends would all gather in one of our dorm rooms and play classical music. We thought it would make us smarter. In our highschool on any given day you would hear classical music being played softly on the loud speaker so we thought for sure this will make us smarter! Using the setting of either a library corner or a dorm room, whipping out flash cards and repeating information was the most popular ways most college kids studied. As I have decided to go back to school for my masters, I have utilized the same techniques. I have one designated area that is quiet and calm in my home where I am able to whip out my laptop and begin to learn! If there is information that is key for the week’s lesson, I create flash cards as an attempt to store the information in my LTM. Can you imagine my surprise when I came across the article that told me I have it all wrong!  Benedict Carey shares in the New York Times( 2010) that we all have it wrong! Carey indicates that we need to throw out that flash card mentality and start changing the scenary when we study! WHAT! How can this be! I’m a FLASH CARD PRO and I love my little quiet area! After I gained my composure, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give this article a chance before I judge. So, at this point you are probably thinking, what in the world does this person really suggest we do to store information in our long term memory? First, do not study one concentration during long periods of time. Take the time to study multiple concentrations. This will keep your mind fresh , alert, and “…seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time” (Carey, 2010,pg. D.1).  Do you think that sounds odd? Are you used to buckling down and focusing on one topic to avoid cognitive overload? Me too, but the studies mentioned in the article challenged my current thoughts on the topic. Carey referenced a study conducted by Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor (2010) where one group of students learned one equation and the second group learned 4 sets of equations.  When the students returned the next day, the students who learned the variations of the equations outscored the students who focused on the one equation, 77 % to 38%. So the next time you are studying for that big test, or  preparing participants to retain knowledge in their LTM, try changing the scenery and mixing up the information being delivered!

Riddle Me This!

It’s one of those things I will never get out of my head. Sitting at home with my mother going over a math problem that I am unable to figure out! Problem solving is something that we are taught at an early age. You learn that  Johnny has 1 apple and Tommy gives Johnny 2 apples, you have to figure out how many apples Johnny now has. Building the foundation of problem solving is more important than counting apples. Earlier this week, I was interested to find out how many of my peers suffered with math at an early age as well. The weak foundation only made it more difficult to learn more complex mathematical problems. Why the struggle?  Jules Asher of  Medical News Today shared that the region of the brain where problem solving takes place matures later in life. Describing the process as “…gray matter – the working tissue of the brain’s cortex – diminishing in a back-to-front wave, likely reflecting the pruning of unused neuronal connections during the teen years” ( Asher, 2004,http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8410.php).  If you are a teacher and you notice that your student is struggling with problem solving, knowing that this skill may not develop until later after puberty, may help you in trying to find an effective delivery to help your student overcome their hard time with solving problems.

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