WHEN I LEARN, WHAT HAPPENS IN MY BRAIN? How Understanding Your Brain Can Help You Learn

Your brain comprises 85 billion neurons, which is greater than the number of stars visible in the night sky with the naked eye. A neuron is a type of cell that works as a messenger, conveying information to other neurons in the form of nerve impulses (similar to electrical signals). For example, when you write, some neurons in your brain convey the \”move fingers\” message to other neurons, which then goes through the nerves (like cables) to your fingers.

The electrical signals that travel from one neuron to another are thus responsible for your ability to write, think, see, leap, talk, compute, and so on. Moreover, each neuron can connect to up to 10,000 other neurons, resulting in a massive network of connections in your brain that resembles a dense spider web.

What is neuroplasticity?

When you learn, your brain undergoes significant changes, including the formation of new connections between neurons. Neuroplasticity is the term for this phenomenon. These connections become stronger the more you practise. The messages (nerve impulses) are transmitted faster as your connections improve, making them more efficient.


That is how you improve at anything you learn, whether it is sports, reading, sketching, or anything else.

Comparison between trails in a forest and connections between the neurons

The connections between your neurons can be compared to woodland paths. It\’s tough to walk through a forest without a trail since you have to condense and push plants and branches out of the way to pass through. The more you use the same track, though, the easier and more convenient it gets.

When you stop utilizing the trail, the foliage grows back, and the track eventually fades away. When you stop practising anything, the connections between your neurons weaken and can eventually be disassembled or pruned, which is quite similar to what happens in your brain.


That is why, if you haven\’t read since the summer, it may seem tough to get back into reading when school starts. On the other hand, some neural networks may become so powerful that the trails or connections never totally vanish. Learning rewires your neurons, demonstrating how dynamic (plastic) your brain is—that it changes and is not static. Repeatedly practising or rehearsing activates your neurons and helps you learn.

These changes begin when a kid is still in its mother\’s womb and continue throughout a person\’s life. So, how can you assist your neurons in informing and strengthening their connections? Here, we show two ways that appear to be more consistent with how your brain functions and may be able to assist you in learning more effectively.


Activating Your Neurons on a Regular Basis (Strategy 1)

Because the connections between your neurons must be stimulated several times before they can get stronger and more efficient, one of the first and most important strategies is to activate them repeatedly. This means that to acquire arithmetic tables, you must practise them regularly to develop a \”trail\” between your neurons. You couldn\’t speak or walk in one day as a newborn unless you practised a lot.

However, it is crucial to note that simply reading or looking at your arithmetic tables will not help you link your neurons. You can also find it tedious and uninteresting. To form connections amongst your neurons, you must recover the arithmetic tables from your memory. In other words, you have to try to recall the answer yourself to activate your connections. We are not implying that this is a simple task!


Scientists believe that this \”battle\” increases learning since the difficulty indicates that new connections are being formed. Remember that learning something new is similar to trekking in the woods without a route; you\’ll probably go slowly at first, but if you keep hiking, trails will build, and you\’ll ultimately be travelling on well-worn paths. Furthermore, making a mistake while recalling what you\’ve learned can help you detect learning gaps.

According to scientists, tests or exams can also help you retain material better than studying alone. For example, study your arithmetic tables while taking tests. You will most likely do better on your final exam than if you just studied. Why? The exams force you to retrieve information from the neurons in which the information is stored, thereby activating and strengthening your connections.

As a result, the goal is to practise retrieval in a fun way. For example, you could attempt a variety of tactics at home, such as answering practice questions or using flashcards. These should help you remember things better than re-reading or listening to lectures (as long as you don\’t flip the flashcard over before answering!). Preparing questions to ask a classmate or parent and redoing examinations or exercises are other ways.

Make up your own storey! First, you must keep in mind that you must first recall the information rather than simply reading or listening to the answer for your neurons to build their connections. Second, you should devise a method for receiving feedback in order to determine whether you got something right or wrong. Finally, do not be disheartened if you encounter difficulties; this is a normal part of the learning process in your brain!

Spacing Neuronal Activation ( Strategy 2)

You may be wondering how often you should practise now that you know neurons must be triggered repeatedly for learning to occur (and that learning entails recovering information). Scientists have reported breaks and sleep between learning periods by studying the learning brain to promote learning and prevent forgetting.

As a result, it appears that frequently retrieving within spaced practise sessions, rather than a massed practise session, is preferable (practising a task continuously without rest). So, for example, instead of studying or completing homework for three hours, which would leave you fatigued anyway, you might divide the learning time into three one-hour sessions or even six half-hour periods.


In other words, spacing your retrieval practice allows your brain to reinforce the connections you strengthened during your practice sessions more efficiently. When you take a short break from practice, say a 20-minute break, you allow the receptors on the surface of the neurons to be maintained or replaced. The receptors function similarly to electrical outlets, receiving nerve impulses (electrical signals) from other neurons.

Taking a rest allows your neurons to work more efficiently, allowing them to transfer nerve impulses more easily to other neurons. Finally, getting a good night\’s sleep between practice sessions gives you a free retrieval practice session since your brain reactivates the connections between the neurons you activate during the day while you sleep. A nap could provide similar effects.

You may inform your teacher that you\’re trying to do retrieval practise the next time you\’re sleepy in class! In summary, your brain is more stimulated when you space out learning, especially retrieval practise, than when you learn in one extended session. You\’re probably wondering how to spread out your learning in your daily life at this point.

The good news is that there are a variety of methods to go about it, and it\’s simple to adapt to varied skills like solving math problems or memorizing concepts. Breaking up sessions into smaller sessions is the most obvious modification you can make to your study plan. You could also request daily or weekly review tests and other homework from your teacher. Finally, interleaved practice can be used to achieve spacing.

This is a series of problems constructed so that the same approach cannot be used to answer each one. You could, for example, mix your math problems so that geometry, algebra, and inequality issues are presented in random order. Interleaving has the added benefit of allowing you to do different activities in between two sessions, maximizing your time.

In a nutshell, previously learned knowledge will require less effort to re-learn because the space allows your brain to consolidate—that is, your brain generates the building blocks necessary for the connections between your neurons.

A limitless mind

Jo Boaler\’s latest book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers, demonstrates why this mentality is erroneous. Boaler, a math professor at Stanford University, believes that once people understand how their brains operate and how to facilitate their learning, they can learn almost anything.

Her book challenges outdated concepts of \”giftedness\” in favour of a complete embrace of the new science of the mind, converting schools, organizations, and workplaces into environments that encourage rather than hinder success.

The problem with talent

Every year, millions of children enter school eager about what they will learn, but rapidly grow disillusioned when they realize they are not as smart as others.\” That\’s because parents and instructors unintentionally send the idea that skill is something you either have or don\’t. As a result, many young adults are afraid of arithmetic when they come to her class, and their fear of learning has an impact on their capacity to learn.

The belief that our brains are fixed and that we simply lack aptitude for particular things is not only scientifically incorrect; it is pervasive and has a harmful impact on not only schooling but many other aspects of our daily lives. Despite the fact that neuroplasticity—the study of how our brains change in response to learning—suggests that learning can occur at any age, it is claimed that this information has not made its way into schools.

Some of our erroneous perceptions of brilliance have resulted in racist and sexist attitudes. Many girls, for example, are taught from an early age that arithmetic is for males and that boys are better at it, impeding their capacity to achieve and leading to gender discrepancies in math-related fields of study. Similarly, to succeed, persons of colour may need to overcome assumptions about fixed IQ.

How our minds assist us in learning

Fortunately, Boaler doesn\’t only point out the flaw; he also offers advice on how to change one\’s thinking, whether they\’re afraid of math or have other barriers to overcome.

Recognise that your brain is constantly changing.

\”Our brain creates, strengthens, or connects neural networks every time we learn,\” adds Boaler. This means that no one is limited in what they can learn from the moment they are born. Instead, it is people\’s learning that is hampered by their belief in giftedness and how it affects how teachers educate.


When schools track pupils by putting them into various reading or math groups based on ability, it can lead to poorer outcomes for students than keeping mixed-level students together, however, according to Teresa Iuculano and her colleagues\’ research, adults who were categorized as \”learning handicapped\” as children can have their brains rewired after a brief programme of one-on-one tutoring.

Acknowledge and accept failure, struggle, and mistakes.

Students and teachers alike frequently feel that achieving the correct answer on a test demonstrates that they are learning. However, as Boaler points out, when pupils practise tough tasks—problems that are just beyond their grasp—the brain works harder and imprints new information. This also makes the information more accessible in the future.

Students\’ learning is hampered by practising what they already know well, whereas making mistakes helps them focus on alternative ways of thinking about a topic, strengthening learning. It can be extremely liberating for both teachers and students when they encourage students to strive, and students give them the freedom to make errors.

Shift your mindset about your mind, and your brain will shift as well.

When you change your thoughts about yourself, it turns out that your body and brain will change as well. For example, independent of their beginning age, heart health, race, or other criteria, persons who had negative thoughts about ageing in their earlier years—between 18 and 49—were more likely to develop a cardiovascular incident during the next 38 years.


The same can be said for how you approach your studies. For example, suppose early children learn that their academic achievement is determined by intelligence rather than effort. In that case, they may be less motivated to learn later in life.

Experiment with a variety of learning methods.

While it\’s important to have a growth mindset when it comes to learning—the idea that knowledge isn\’t fixed and can be developed through effort and perseverance—also it\’s important to try out new learning strategies. Multi-dimensional approaches to teaching and learning are the most effective because they activate multiple parts of the brain at once, and communication between them improves learning. Even seemingly unrelated knowledge or talents, such as verbal skills or finger sensing, might improve math performance (the ability to identify our fingers without looking at them).


The need for a novel method to teaching that is more physical, multi-dimensional, and creative than the approaches that have been utilized in the past in most institutions of learning is being revealed by new findings of the workings of the brain. She discovered that this multi-pronged approach to teaching math—challenging students to consider problems using different strategies, such as storytelling or visual art—was much more effective for learning, particularly for girls, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students; research. This argues that approaching anything you want to learn from numerous perspectives is preferable to attempting to do it \”right\” the first time.

Rather than focusing on speed, try to think flexibly.

Too frequently, teachers and students believe that being quick at something equates to being good at it. However, research shows that this is not always the matter. Attempting to complete a task under duress, such as a timed test, can result in stress, impairing the working memory required to recall critical information. That\’s why, according to Boaler, assigning extended problem sets to kids to solve at home or attempting to test arithmetic proficiency under timed settings is ineffective.


It may also unintentionally discourage prospective math academics who give up too soon because they believe speed equals competence. While some students excel at timed testing and cramming for exams, according to Boaler, their learning is unlikely to retain. Instead, learning requires connecting with content in various ways throughout time. Instead, learning requires connecting with content in various ways throughout time.

Try collaborating with others.

Children will not necessarily benefit from schools that teach a growth mindset to learn better if the concept doesn\’t have peer support—that is if students still believe in the myth of the talented student. Instead, schools must emphasize that studying together is preferable to learning alone. Working together rather than alone, according to one study, can mean the difference between passing and failing a challenging math class.

\”When kids work together and learn that everyone finds some or all of the job challenging,\” argues Boaler, \”an important change occurs.\” It reinforces the idea that \”learning is a journey with many challenges.\” Focusing on teamwork in the classroom rather than evaluating pupils individually, according to Boaler, more closely resembles the workplace and can help minimize gender bias in science-related topics.


Our approach is often more important than our abilities when it comes to learning. Because learning takes place in the brain, you must keep your neurons active to get the most out of your class or study time. The two learning methodologies presented in this article have the potential to help you learn more effectively by setting ideal conditions for strengthening and consolidating neural connections. In addition, you now understand that using the \”trails\” in your brain frequently and spacing out your practice can help you improve. With a deeper understanding of how your brain learns and the application of supportive learning practices, you can now assist your brain in learning more effectively!

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