The brain and learning


Welcome back! 

This week I’ve been forced to think about my brain – why I can remember things from 25 years ago, but forget my mental grocery list by the time I get to the store which is less than a half a mile away.  I have gained much more respect for the brain and how it functions, specifically how it processes information and turns it into this thing we call learning.

As I embark on the instructional design journey, I recognize that an effective teacher / designer has to be aware of how the brain works.  While the teacher doesn’t need to acquire a degree in neuroscience, he /she should gain a healthy respect for how the brain processes, stores, and retrieves information (Perry, n.d.)  It is also important to recognize that the brain’s “attention span” is limited – the brain fatigues fairly quickly (can sustain 4-8 minutes of “factual information” before it begins wandering (Perry, n.d.).  This is particularly important to recognize as we design learning activities – making sure that the information is clearly presented in a way to reach the learners before they mentally check out.

There are neurological studies to explain this.  The term mental fatigue has been likened to the fatigue that one feels when performing physical exercise.  MRI scans of the brain have isolated the area of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) that is responsible for an individual’s feeling of mental fatigue as described by a feeling of “lethargy and slowness of thinking” (Publishers, 2012).  For the instructional designer, this is again important to recognize so that we can reach the learner prior to the onset of brain fatigue.

One more thing, check out this website  It says it can train your brain in the areas of speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving using games.  I’m going to try to do this everyday to see if I can train my brain to compete with Watson (IBM computer) on Jeopardy and maybe I can also train my brain to remember that nagging grocery list of mine!

You should also check out these two resources to learn what I learned about my brain this week: an essay by Dr. Bruce Perry describing how the brain learns. a research magazine covering various topics.  Check out the “mind and brain section”.


Perry, B. (n.d.). How the brain learns best. Retrieved from

Publishers, I. (2012, December 10). Functional magnetic resonance imaging offers insights into mental fatigue. Retrieved from Science Daily:



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