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Thinking About Neuroscience & Learning

I am struck by how inextricably my learning experience and that of people I have spoken to, learned with and taught, is linked to emotion. When I speak to people about their learning experiences they seem to immediately connect with the highs and lows, the truly wonderful and transformational, and also the crushing and cruel. These experiences can very much influence adult decisions about whether to return to learning, and if we do, how we engage, what we put in, and what we get out of it.

When we go into learning as adults, we bring with us a vast amount of prior knowledge, expertise and learning, which is a landscape into which we can then place subsequent learning. This needs to be accounted, valued, welcomed and celebrated – by both those who are training, facilitating or leading our learning AND by us.

We can, at times, get in the way of our own leaning and development as a result of negative, painful and undermining previous experiences that have left a, perhaps unaware, layer of resistance, that overshadows the good stuff. Those painful old experiences, from parents or caregivers, school, college, university or significant people, can become ‘set’ leaving us with some rigid, crusty limiting ‘old records’ that we keep playing, and which get in the way of us approaching new learning in an open and curious, confident, creative and collaborative way.

Discussing andragogy, or adult learning, Knowles et al note that it has been recognised that a ‘climate of adultness’ is strong in creating positive emotions (2015:222).

What does that mean – ‘a climate of adultness’? I’m thinking about giving choice, about collaboration, and about consultation to start with. I’d be interested to hear what others think about what creates a ‘climate of adultness’ in learning environments.

Research shows that when this welcoming, positive ‘climate of adultness’ is present that adults are more motivated to learn and find learning easier. I love that. So, positive learning experiences can be literally life-changing in a range of positive ways.

Neuroscientists have now explained why this is true. It turns out that positive emotions during learning trigger the release of neurotransmitters which aid in information processing, while negative emotions also trigger the release of neurotransmitters but those that block new learning (e.g. fight or flight reactions)Knowles et al (2015:222)

For me this understanding is fundamental my approach to teaching/training/educating and is why keeping up the positive strokes and warmth, willingness to be real and authentic, and being curious and non-defensive are so important.