Chapters 1: New Look at Learning 4: Using All Senses 7: Mindsets 2: Sleep, Naps & Breaks 5: Patterns & Learning 8: Paying Attention 3: Exercise & Learning 6: Memory 9: Author’s Message Chapter 1: a new Look at Learning

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The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain

Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek


1: New Look at Learning 4: Using All Senses 7: Mindsets

2: Sleep, Naps & Breaks 5: Patterns & Learning 8: Paying Attention

3: Exercise & Learning 6: Memory 9: Author’s Message

  • Chapter 1: A New Look at Learning


  • -Neuroscience research shows a physical change in the brain when you learn something new.

    • -we have 86 billion brain cells; when we learn something new they form new connections with each other.

  • Chapter 2: Sleep, Naps and Breaks - “You can’t shortchange your brain of sleep and still learn effectively.”


  • -short transient brain waves consolidate memories and transfer new information from the hippocampus (a fast learning but low capacity short-term memory store) to the neocortex (a slower-learning but higher-capacity long-term memory store). There it will be more stable and more likely to become long term memories.

  • This movement happens when we are asleep!

  • -the final 2 hr of sleep are crucial for memories to be laid down in your brain. It replays scenes from the day over and over again so that they become stable in your memory.

  • -adults need from 7-9 hours of sleep to function at best; teens often need more


  • -Sleep allows your brain to clear space for new learning the next day. Studies show electrical impulses while we sleep that shift memories from the brain’s hippocampus (with limited storage space) to the near limitless prefrontal cortex’s ‘hard drive’. This frees up the hippocampus to take in new data.

  • -Hence Sleep is the key to having a brain ready to learn


  • -Sleeping soon after learning, benefits both episodic memory (memory for events) and semantic memory (memory for facts about the world). Hence it is a good idea to rehearse any information you want to remember immediately before going to bed

  • -The brain also evaluates memories while we sleep and retains those that it considers most important and likely to be needed soon, i.e. what we say over and over again; information necessary for survival; information processed when we are excited; etc.

  • -DAY TIME: resting right after learning something new is important for creating memory & recall


  • -When brain stimulated by multiple and constant sensory inputs (texting, studying, TV, radio), or lack of sleep, it becomes exhausted without us knowing it. Unable to learn.


  • -brain uses 25-30% of body’s energy each day.

    • -Need to eat a healthy, balanced diet before beginning learning.

    • -Water is needed for production of hormones & neurotransmitters which are key players in brain’s communication system - at the heart of learning.

  • Chapter 3: Exercise and Learning -Aerobic exercise is the “single most important thing a person can do to improve their learning.”


  • -Exercise sparks BDNF, which is a protein produced inside nerve cells when they are active. It serves as fertilizer for brain cells, keeps them functioning and growing and spurs growth of new neurons. Hence, there is a direct biological connection between movement and learning. BDNF, the “Miracle-Gro for the Brain” improves every aspect of the learning process at the cellular level. A brain low on BDNF shuts itself off to new information.

  • -BDNF actually makes learning easier. It gathers in reserve pools near synapses in the brain and is unleashed when we get our blood pumping. It also works to limit the effects of stress on the brain and protect it from disease.


  • -Exercise increases production of serotonin, dopamine & norepinephrine which help your brain be alert, attentive, positive & motivated for learning. These also help enhance patience, self-control & concentration.

  • -Synapses permit a neuron (brain cell) to pass electrical or chemical signals to other cells. Exercise prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for learning new information. It also stimulates production of new synapses. The number of synapses & their binding underlie superior intelligence – hence exercise makes it easier to grow more intelligent.

  • -Exercise spurs development of new brain cells which develop as stem cells and form in the hippocampus – an important memory area of the brain. These new neurons cropped up only in the dentate gyrus area of the hippocampus – the area that controls learning and memory. Exercise restores the dentate gyrus to a healthier, “younger” state. Hence exercise keeps brain functions healthy & productive as we age also.

  • -30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week is good baseline. Learning benefits last 6-8 hours; and regular exercise puts brains in a continual state of readiness to learn.

  • Chapter 4: Using All Your Senses to Learn

  • -Human senses work together and when 2 or more used together, learning & memory get a boost

  • -when you learn something with different senses, then multiple pathways are created to retrieve the information – different pathways for each sense. So if one pathway gets blocked, then you can still retrieve it via other ways if you study and recall information using multiple senses

  • -SMELL

  • -the piriform cortex, the part of our brain that handles smell, is located directly next to the part responsible for memory and emotion.


  • -images are the easiest thing for the brain to learn; hence concept maps, etc are great ways to enhance learning and recall

  • Chapter 5: Patterns and Learning

  • -the human brain is a pattern seeking device

  • -every time we learn something new, our brain tries to adapt it to a previous pattern. If we cannot do so, then the brain creates new, additional patterns

  • -Our brain constantly seeks patterns & connections to understand our world.


  • -brains can only process “seven plus or minus two” chunks of information at one time


  • -It is easier to learn new information if it is similar to other concepts we already know


  • -brains use familiar patterns to anticipate what is coming next.


  • –using prior information to learn new information. Real learning happens when you increase the distance between the ‘transfer’ (connection); but that takes extra practice and work.

  • –“Life won’t give you the exact same problems all the time, and knowing how to apply information to solve new problems is the foundation of being educated.”


  • -Our brains seek a focal point of patterns


  • -Brains see things that are close to one another, either in time or space, as going together and things that are far apart as distinct.

  • -When events happen close together in time, our brains infer a ‘cause and effect’ relationship

  • -Patterns of Cause and Effect, especially when NOT obvious, causes the brain to engage in deeper and more critical thinking, as it seeks connections


  • -Hierarchy: information organized in order of importance

  • -Alphabetical Order: helps to remember words, etc

  • -Our Own Language: taking concepts and putting them into our own words

  • -Textbooks: all have almost universal patterns & formats

  • -Other reading: usually has a beginning, middle & end with their own patterns

  • Chapter 6: Memory


      • -using new material over an extended period

      • -i.e. practicing a list of words for 30 mins once a day for a week


      • -studying the list for 2 hours straight, but only once

      • -retrieval cues are never established; hence you forget it


  • –does not fit the neuroscience definition of learning, which requires that learned information be available at a later time.

  • Cramming does not allow the brain to transfer information to long term storage, so studying intensely for a short period can help the brain remember information for a short time; but does nothing for long term recall: within 1-2 days you will have forgotten much of the material; within 1 week you will have forgotten 75% of material

      • -the brain makes no long term memories of it

      • -the brain needs DISTRIBUTED PRACTICE to learn & recall information

  • -if you retrieve material from your memory each day, even if for a short period of time, your brain makes a pathway to that information that’s easier and easier to access


      • -the learned object itself

      • -the retrieval cue to find the learned object

      • -like a book in a library – need to be able to find where it is to read it

      • -the best way to strengthen each is DISTRIBUTED PRACTICE


  • -The more ways you can elaborate on, work with, connect with information; the more memory pathways will develop and be available


  • -When the ‘amygdala’ (structure located deep in the brain which processes memories of emotional reactions) detects emotions, it boosts activity in the areas of the brain that form memories


  • -There is no such thing. Each time you work on something, the brain must shut down the other activity to focus on what you are doing

  • -Those who ‘multitask’ make 50% more errors and spend 50% more time on tasks. Hence it takes longer to do a worse job.

  • -The human brain is unable to deal with constant stimulation: texting, phoning, studying, listening to music/tv, etc exhausts the brain making it near impossible to remember anything. Exhausted brains also make one cranky and irritable.

  • -Research shows that even listening to music while studying reduces performance


  • -Is different than multitasking. It focusing on one thing at a time, completing it quickly and moving on to the next – a valuable skill

  • -Although it fatigues the brain, and when fatigued it is much more difficult to focus. It also causes irritability


  • -Widely known that long-term stress adversely affects the ability to learn.

  • -Recent studies show that even minor, short-term stressful events interfere with ability to learn & remember.

  • -Best way to protect self from effects of stress is exercising

  • Chapter 7: Mindsets toward Learning

  • -A mindset is a view you have toward yourself as a learner, and effects ALL your learning

  • -Mindset usually forms in Middle School, as material begins to get harder


  • -Science shows that intelligence changes through exposure to new information & learning by making new neuroconnections between cells


  • -Intelligence is NOT a fixed quantity that you get at birth: if you continue learning, then you become smarter every day


  • -Believe that intelligence is a fixed trait (despite hundreds of studies showing otherwise); and that you are either smart (in an area) or you are not and there’s nothing you can do about it. i.e. “I’m not a ‘math’ person”

  • How Fixed Mindsets affect:

      • -SELF-IMAGE: you strive for a positive one, and only take on easy materials to insure it. You try to make others look dumb, and discount their achievements

      • -CHALLENGES: you avoid challenges since they are a risk to your self-esteem. You seek the easy classes, course work, jobs, etc.

      • -OBSTACLES: you use obstacles as an excuse, or you quit to avoid them

      • -EFFORT: you view effort as unpleasant and unrewarding, so you avoid it

      • -CRITICISM: any criticism of your ability is taken as a criticism of you as an individual. You either ignore criticism, or take it as an insult.

      • -SUCCESS OF OTHERS: you see other’s success as making you look bad; hence you downplay it, attribute it to luck, or cheating.


  • -Believe (correctly) that intelligence grows as you add new knowledge and skills. You value hard work, learning and challenges. You see failure as a message that you need to change tactics in order to succeed next time.

  • How Growth Mindsets affect:

      • -SELF-IMAGE: you do not see your self-image as tied to your abilities because you know your abilities can be further developed and improved

      • -CHALLENGES: you embrace challenges because you know you will come out stronger for being tested, and you will discover valuable things

      • -OBSTACLES: you look upon failure as an opportunity to learn. Obstacles are just one more thing on the road to learning and improving

      • -EFFORT: you see effort as necessary if growth and mastery are to be achieved. You view it as a natural part of the learning process

      • -CRITICISM: while you are not thrilled to receive it, you know it is not personal and is meant to help you grow and improve. You know it is only directed to your current level of abilities, which will change and improve with time and effort.

      • -SUCCESS OF OTHERS: is viewed as inspirational and something to learn from.

  • It is NOT intelligence that makes people excel in a given area, it is EFFORT and PRACTICE.


  • -You can have a fixed mindset in one area, and a growth mindset in another

  • -a lot depends on adult feedback.

  • -Growth mindsets develop when told, “You are really learning! Look how well your efforts paid off! Well that failure just means we need to try a different tactic; at least you are still learning!” Etc.

  • -Fixed mindsets develop when told, “You are so smart! You are a math wizard! You must not be good at math, look at your poor grade.” Etc.

  • -CHANGING MINDSETS: Recognize that:

      • -Performance reflects only current skills and talents, which constantly improve . It does NOT reflect intelligence, worth or potential!

  • Chapter 8: Paying Attention

  • -If under age of 30, you’ve lived an entire life in a media-based culture full of short bits of information. Constant exposure to it has wired brains to deal with information that comes at you for shorter periods and on a continual basis.

  • -If over 30, your brain is wired to deal with information given less frequently and over longer periods.

  • Our lifestyle/culture is actually changing our brains…

  • -Hence, brains act completely differently today than at any other time in history. There has been a noticeable decrease in attention spans in schoolchildren.

  • -Multitasking actually damages important alertness by encouraging you to shift attention frequently

  • -Hence, in our lightning fast multimedia culture, THE ATTENTION SPAN MAY BE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

  • -Therefore, special work must be done to nurture and improve attention span, and learning success


  • -Understanding that to learn you have to pay attention and that more difficult learning situations will require you to increase your attention are two keys to your learning success!


  • -Boredom is a CHOICE

  • -“Learning success requires sacrificing boredom, and it is not an easy sacrifice to make.”

      • -Choosing to seek out and engage in an activity when you are bored takes energy.

  • -You do not have the luxury in school to pay attention to only what interests you, and blame it on ‘boredom’!

      • -YOU must bring meaning and challenge to the material to increase your own interest and attention

  • -The ONE absolute law of learning is that attention is necessary for learning


  • -is a normal brain activity; developing the ability to realize you are ‘drifting off’ at a time when you need to pay attention and disciplining yourself to ‘return’ is essential to success

  • -SLEEP

      • Brain shuts down several of the mental processes needed for learning when it is tired – even though you are still awake.

      • -Additionally, the brain has not been able to clear out space for new material when you do not get enough sleep – so learning new material is very difficult


      • -Aerobic exercise 4-5 days a week improves ability to pay attention & learn


  • Things claimed to ‘boost attention’ and ‘help cognitive functioning’ show no success

  • -However, research does show that meditation/prayer does


  • -Sleep, exercise, self-control to recognize off track and effort to bring yourself back

  • -YOUR TEACHERS CAN NOT DO THIS FOR YOU (and are not to blame when you do not!)

  • Chapter 9: A Message from the Authors

  • Over All Findings:

      • -Learning anything new takes more time, practice and skill than people think

      • -The brain strengthens memories each time they are recalled

      • -The more often a task or skill is practiced, the stronger the memory for that task or skill becomes

      • -There is NO substitute for practice over time if you want to learn something new successfully

      • -The more ways you use the information, the better you can recall it when needed

      • -The brain needs sleep, hydration & exercise to operate best

      • -The income gap between those with a college degree and those without is widening. It is now 2-4 times higher, and continuing to grow.

  • Summary Statement: “Only when you practice, read, write, think, talk, collaborate, and reflect does your brain make permanent connections. Teachers cannot do this for you, and at times this work will make you tired. But by doing so, you are changing the neurochemistry in your brain, which is pretty amazing.”

  • The one who does the Work, does the Learning.”

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