Posted in Books, Educational Reform, Teaching & Learning, Tips for Students, Tips for Teachers

The Role of Neural Associations in Learning

Excerpted from Triggers, by Stanley Mann:

“Multisensory imagination is the world’s finest teaching machine, and we all possess it. ¬†We simply need to learn how to use it.”

I just came across this great quote in a book I’m reading. The book is about using triggers, or neural associations, to direct one’s attention in constructive ways. The quote comes from a chapter on using triggers to enhance learning ability. It resonates with me on a number of levels.

First of all, the idea of multisensory imagination is a little-known but extremely powerful learning enhancement tool, and is the sort of thing that we should be teaching kids about in school instead of pumping them full of facts and figures. To truly learn anything you have to make it real in your mind, fully engaging with it in your imagination with as many sensory channels as possible; both sight and sound at the very least, and ideally touch, smell, and taste if possible. Conversely, teaching can’t work unless it engages the imagination and the emotions through multiple sensory channels. Educators and curriculum designers need to be mindful of this principle in order to be effective.

Secondly, triggers in general, and learning triggers in particular, rely on the principle of association. Our brains are constantly making associations among various environments, stimuli, and emotional states based on our experience. Neurons that fire together wire together, so when two experiences are repeatedly juxtaposed, they tend to become linked. This means that to optimize your learning process, you need to create a positive physical and mental learning environment for yourself, so that you are comfortable and feeling good while you are learning. Conversely, if the learning environment is physically or mentally uncomfortable, such as by feeling coercive and emotionally unsafe, then the negative feelings it evokes will come to be associated with the process of learning itself, causing them to be re-experienced whenever future learning endeavors are undertaken. This is another principle of human psychology that educators and legislators need to take heed of.