The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question of the Month is “Does the discussion of “how the brain learns” impact your eLearning design?” My answer is in several parts.
The short answer is “yes”, of course, because my PhD is in Cognitive Psychology (really, applied cognitive science), and I’ve looked at cognitive learning, behavioral learning, social constructivist learning, connectionist learning, even machine learning, looking for guidance about how to design better learning experiences. And there is good guidance. However, most of it comes from research on learning, not from neuroscience.
The longer answer has some caveats. Some of the so-called brain science ranges from misguided to outright misleading. Some of the ‘learning styles’ materials claim to be based in brain structure, but the evidence is suspect at best. Similarly, some of the inferences from neural structures are taken inappropriately. There’s quite a bit of excitement, and fortunately some light amidst the heat and smoke. In short, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
At the end of the day, the best guidance is still the combination of empirical results from research on how we learn, a ‘design research’ approach with iterative testing, and some inspiration in lieu of what still needs to be tested (e.g. engagement). I think that we know a lot about designing effective learning, that is based in how our brains work, but few implications from the physiology of the brain. As others have said, the implications at one layer of ‘architecture’ don’t necessarily imply higher levels of phenomena. We’ve lots to learn yet about our brains.
As with so many other ‘snake oil’ issues, like multigenerational differences, learning styles, digital natives, etc, brain-based learning appears to be trying to sell you a program rather than a solution. Look for good research, not good marketing. Caveat emptor!