The real difficulty with basing education on the latest brain research is manipulating the environment outside the student in an attempt to affect what is occurring on the inside of them. Proponents have done few studies on what kind of manipulation actually improves learning. Instead they hone in on a few facts about how the brain works and stretch conclusions as far as possible to redesign education. One study I read recently honestly admitted “After a very selective summary of what is known from brain research about how the brain learns, implications were drawn concerning the influence this new knowledge may have…” (1) Changes in the educational environment were supposed to be based on implications.
Think about some of the conclusions reiterated in brain based learning schemes… such as brains are unique. In fact some research has found so that what we consider an “average brain” of normal intelligence without any learning disabilities actually exists in 10-20% percent of the population.(2) But how exactly do we implement education in large classrooms if differences are the norm? No one is ready to scrap public education thing and let everybody get their own tutor. So educators are encouraged to differentiate, a word which basically means students are supposed to learn the same objectives by doing different activities.
Another finding shows how a large portion of learning is done unconsciously. We gather new information when we are not trying and we do not realize it. We pick up peripheral sights and sounds all of the time and tuck these away in our brains. That presents a real challenge as far as developing strategies for brain based learning. If the students do not realize when they are learning how easy will it be far someone on the outside to determine when this unconscious act of learning is increasing or decreasing.
Last, we come to the research showing that that brains learn more in sensory rich environments. So educators are encouraged to redecorate the rooms frequently, but they better make sure that these decorations actually reinforce what they want students to learn. Surroundings that are too interesting can distract students from listening to the instructor. I recall an English class with a map of London, including pictures of all the well-known tourist sites. I left knowing more about how to vacation in London than how to apply the rules of English grammar.
Photo – “Buckingham Palace (Changing of the Guard)” by хенрик (talk) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buckingham_Palace_(Changing_of_the_Guard).jpg#/media/File:Buckingham_Palace_(Changing_of_the_Guard).jpg