The 10 biggest breakthroughs in the science of learning

A few years ago The New York Times reported:

“The body of knowledge about how the brain works is growing, but so is the list of gaps in our understanding.”

They continued:

“…many large and small questions remain unanswered.”

Nevertheless there have been many breakthroughs in the science of learning. The following will be enlightening for anyone who is involved in education.

More information doesn’t mean more learning

The brain can take a phenomenal load of information but even the brain can become overwhelmed. This can happen especially when we are multitasking.

Therefore teachers have to include new approaches when teaching and have to eliminate what is not essential.

The brain is a highly dynamic organ

Contrary to what was believed until fairly recently the brain’s wiring has the ability to keep changing. This means that the brain can adapt to new situations including learning situations.

Emotion influences the ability to learn

How we feel at a given time or over a prolonged period has a major impact on how well we learn especially on how well we learn new things. If learners are stressed, worried, anxious, ashamed or extremely shy, for example, this makes it more difficult for them to learn.

Mistakes are an essential part of learning

You might have heard the following: The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. And: Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move on.

Learners need to be taught – and constantly reminded – that making mistakes, and failure, is a normal part of learning.

The brain needs novelty

Bored of being bored because being bored is boring! Ever felt this way?

Boredom can’t really kill you, as another saying goes, but the brain not only needs repetition for optimal learning takes place, it also needs – and thrives on – novelty.

There are no learning styles

As mentioned in a previous TAS blog article (, some research, compiled over the past decade or so, debunked the whole issue of learning styles.

Learners do have preferences for how they learn though.

Brains operate on the ‘use it or lose it’ principle

The long and short of it is that information in the brain that isn’t used often enough, is often lost, as neural pathways weaken over time.

Learning is social

It has been found that most people need a social environment to optimise their learning. One of the biggest reasons for this is that learners learn from their peers – and the questions they ask – too.

Learning is best when innate abilities are capitilised on

The human mind has a number of innate capabilities (such as the ability to learn a language or basic mathematics).  Concentrating on these capabilities streamlines the learning process.

Learning can change brain structure

Not much is known about this field of research thus far but what is known is that
new information can modify the structure of the brain.
This means your brain can be ‘improved’.

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