Learning is an amazing process that we often take for granted. We seldom stop to ponder just exactly “how” information travels through pathways in our brain to somehow successfully get coded and stored in our short-term or long-term memory bank. The journey is quite amazing, and I believe it’s important to review some of the basics, especially the part about repetition.
Here’s a brief description of the facts that every teacher should know:
First of all, the brain is an organ that has tens of billions of brain cells called neurons. As information comes into the brain through our senses—our eyes, nose, ears, taste buds, and skin, the neurons begin to fire.
To help you visualize neurons as they begin to fire, imagine that each one has a large terminal and a small terminal connected by a walkway. The large terminal of the cell where the nucleus is located has arms called dendrites that receive messages from other neurons. The cell body processes the signals from the dendrites and sends electrical impulses to other neurons from the small terminal known as the axon. As the tiny electrochemical pulses explode and travel from one cell to another across tiny gaps called synapses, brain cells communicate, and a learning path is formed.
The learning path becomes a memory in three stages: 1) a sensory perception, 2) a short-term memory, and 3) a long-term memory. First you perceive through your senses, and then the information turns into a short-term memory. Scientists refer to this as working-memory, and it lasts only minutes. When and if information gets transferred to long-term memory, it can last days, weeks, months or years! Long-term memories are stored throughout the brain as groups of neurons that are primed to fire together in the same pattern that created the original experience.
It’s important to understand that repetition is the number one way information makes its way to long-term memory. The more the brain repeats information via the learning path, the more likely that information will be retained in long-term memory.
Repetition is key to learning, so repeat, repeat, and repeat!
Would you like me to repeat that?