The Brain and the Learning Process

18 01 2013

This week in my graduate class we moved forward in our studies of learning theories and instruction by exploring how the brain operates when it comes to learning and problem solving. It was challenging to try to digest all of the terminology and different theories, but it was interesting to read about ways the brain processes information. Dr. Jeanne Ormrod in the video “Information Processing and the Brain” talks about the information processing theory and how this theory focuses on what goes on in the learner minds, how the learner takes in information, and how the learner retrieves information to apply to their outside world. Dr. Ormrod also talks about the computer metaphor being used by many theorists to explain what goes on in a learner’s mind. The computer metaphor has been often used to describe the information processing theory due to duplicate processes used by both computer and the brain, such as input, encoding, storage, and retrieval. However, Dr. Ormrod brings up a good point about the weaknesses of relying solely on the computer metaphor and why theorists are getting away from using it. Although the brain may function similar to computer functions, the emotional aspect of the learner is not being taken into account. In addition to viewing Dr. Ormrod’s short video, I had a chance to review two other articles as it relates to the brain and the learner.

As a learner, we know that we encounter both visual and verbal in our learning. I believe as educators, we have to learn how to find methods that bring some type of balance to both areas. Schmidt (2009) explains, “Human minds have 2 information-processing systems, 1 for verbal material and 1 for visual material. Multimedia learning research suggests that using both systems, rather than one or the other, results in deeper learning” (p. 69). Schmidt goes on to explain how she has developed and used visual explanations in the courses she teaches. Visual explanations are short write ups by the students to see how well they understand the material being taught. Schmidt has her students to stop and write a mini response of the main themes discussed in class. Out of these responses, Schmidt develops what she calls cognitive sticky spots to address material that her students are having trouble grasping or just may not be too clear about. By having students write and speak Schmidt is encouraging the students to use their brain in both areas, thus creating a more effective and balanced learning environment. Schmidt also mentions in her article that she allows her students to help her create and produce other visual aids to help her enrich her learning environment.

Another area I found in my reading this week on the brain and learning is the issue of how learners solve problems or think about solving problems. I came across another article that shared information about problem solving and its relationship to learning. Although the author is citing a study from 1950, I believe his discussion can be quite relevant to the classroom today. Lochhead explains that the study showed good problems solvers as being more active than poor problem solvers. Lochhead states, “Poor problem solvers are less active because they do not believe there is anything for them to do. Their view of both problem solving and learning places them in the passive role of absorbing information and giving it back. They think you either know the answer to a question or you don’t. While this attitude may seem naïve, it is in fact the logical consequence of most schooling” (p. 68). Lochhead goes on in the article to give examples of students solving particular math problems as it relates to problem solving. According to Lochhead, research shows that it is important to have students very involved in the problem solving process and to show them that there is more than one way of approaching and solving a problem. Lochhead also describes in his article the importance of having learners write out and speak aloud their thoughts as one important approach to problem solving. He calls it thinking aloud. Lochhead’s article is a short read, but gets your mind to thinking about problem solving in the classroom.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2009). Information Processing and the Brain. [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Dr Jeanne Ormrod
Schmidt, S. J. (2009). Development and Use of Visual Explanations: Harnessing the Power of the “Seeing” Brain to Enhance Student Learning. Journal of Food Science Education, 8(3), 68-72
Lochhead, J. (1981). Research Synthesis on Problem Solving. Educational Leadership. 39(1), 68-70



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