Friday, 24 April 2009

Learn by training your brain to use all the information it can get

There is more information for us all to learn than ever before to get the best out of life. This leads me to the question of how to deal with it all. Breaking it down it's a challenge of how to get information in in the first place and how to be efficient with the that information.

First off the way we're built. Are we making best of this when designing teaching materials and going about learning. This is a question about making media that's tuned to both our abilities and needs and to maximise the information that's passed with every minute that we spend learning. 

What I mean by this is that media gets into our brains via our five senses. 
  1. Visual, 
  2. Auditory, 
  3. Touch, 
  4. Smell, 
  5. taste
Most media is designed around visual and auditory senses. That's fair because we don't normally smell or taste books, computers or whatever we want to learn. Sometimes we do but normally the first 3 senses are used the most. 

When it comes to getting a lot of information in quickly the questions I ask are how much data flow can our brains actually handle?
I don't have the answer but as  human I've found that I can train my brain to be able to handle more information and without training it gets lazy and can't handle as much.  Much like training our bodies physically I find I can train it mentally. The best training is just doing things I find difficult. With perseverance and time my brain grows fitter. The limit to this I don't think I've found. 

If you accept this, and also accept that our brains, much like our bodies are pretty darn good at adapting to the challenges you throw at them so it's best just to figure out what challenges you want to be good at, then it frees you to then say there is no known limit but in either case it's a lot greater than we're al used to reaching. 

I consider this just to consider the actual amount of info the brain can handle. If it has the capacity to handle as much as the sense organs can throw at it then the limit may come from how much the sense organ can both collect, encode and transmit to the brain along nerves. 

Again I don't know the latest rese4arch in this area but what I do find in practice is that our nervous system and sense organs are also exceptionally advanced in their ability to turn a huge amount of information into the small amounts it really needs. It can crunch a huge amount of info and either squeeze it into small bits it can easily transfer or it is capable of buffer the info and storing it for analysis later in the unconscious and during sleep. 

This isn't just hypothetical, there's mounting evidence of this ability and many more. Again the point being that we, as humans, are exceptionaly well developed at adjusting to any challenge presented so this leads to the idea that teaching materials and processes should be designed specifically to build up the learners ability to use as much information as possible. 

In practicality I see this as good instructional design. I like reading but it's very hard to get a lot of information across using just your eyes. I like the idea that a picture paints a thousand words and like to use a lot of visual aids. Taking it further though I believe the best solution will use, particularly, visual, auditory and touch (kinaeshetic) information. 

That's very much why I like the web as a teaching tool because it's so easy to find good materials that reach all these sense well. It's also why I'm a very practical teacher and learner. I don't like to just tell people what to do. I prefer to let them explore the very thing they're learning. I'll watch and follow what they are doing any way can to offer advice and feedback but I prefer to support rather than specifically instruct. 

With real beginners you've got to instruct at first but quickly I move to supporting their learning in the field. Initally with lots of safety precuations and limits in place. As they get better I just remove the limits and teach them how to perform with out the saffety limits. Basically teach them how, when and why to apply the breaks themselves. 

I find this is the fastest way of teaching and learning because it uses the senses we have to the fullest. It also gets learners used to dealing with this mutltitude of information quickly and all at once in a safe setting. This kind of stimulus encourages the brain to adapt and build itself up so it can handle these requirements. Thus we're training the brain as efficiently as we can and being very clear throughout the challenges it needs to adapt to. 

As a side note, as I've jst broached this point, I've noticed more than once that our skill level and ability to learn seems to be markedly related to our brains ability to handle the information it's recieving and the speed it's coming in. Much like fit people can pick up sports faster than those less fit. I find those with fit brains, that have well developed capacity to handle this information, are good at the mental challenges whether they are sport related or otherwise. 

So to sum things up I feel that succeeding in this life with the need to handle more and more information is best dealt with by training our brains. The best way to train our brains is to over load them much life you would training your body for sport. Overloading them requires flooding them with information, a key part of this is flooding the senses which then flood the brain with information. Thus the brain adapts by learning what information to pay attention to and what to ignore. It also improves the systems involves making them faster, and more efficient and better ablke to deal with all the information they need to deal with. Essentially providing a training effect for the brain. 

so when we design media for learners to use it really helps if we think about how to get a lot of information into the content we provide and how we make this appropriate to the task and learner.

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