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Blog: What does your brain need to learn?

The importance of neuroscience in learning

Four things, from the point of view of your brain, affect your ability to learn:
• Learning involves your brain changing
• Some stress helps you to learn better
• Sleep, food and exercise are essential
• Active learning is more stimulating

The basics

Neuroplasticity is your brains ability to change throughout your life. It’s also called brain plasticity. In order to change the brain needs the right conditions so it can respond to different stimuli and produce new memories.

To make learning as effective as it can be you need to stimulate multiple regions of the brain simultaneously. That’s why the classroom has remained so important as it’s still the only way to engage all your senses in the learning experience. As technology continues to improve we get closer and closer to that experience with things like augmented and virtual reality.

Stress and performance are directly related because of our body’s evolutionary advantages. We’re hard wired to react to stress to stay alive. The challenge is that very low levels of stress don’t prompt a reaction and very high levels of stress prompt a fight-or-flight response. Neither of these are optimal for learning.

A happy medium creates the right conditions in your brain for learning to occur and stick. Research show us that moderate levels of cortisol (released in response to stress to increase blood sugar level) correlate to the highest performance in tasks of any type.

Inducing the right level of stress is a challenge for everyone that creates or delivers learning.

It might be as simple as observing a salesperson making a telephone call or having people stand instead of sit in a meeting. The result is what’s important. Place someone under moderate stress and they will learn better.

Sleep, eat and exercise
Simply put, getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthily and exercising regularly leaves your body in the best possible shape for brain elasticity and maintains the right balance of cortisol. I’d bet you’ve never attended a training where they advised you to eat healthily, get plenty of sleep and exercise leading up to the course but it’s a huge factor in retention.

Active learning
Active learning, when a student is engaging beyond passively listening, results in more complex thought processes. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, we can see that to reach the top of the hierarchy a student would need to engage is some pretty engaging learning experiences. It’s at the top of this hierarchy where the most complex thought processes reside.


It’s considered normal to look at your learning from the perspective of the student. More and more it’s becoming normal to look at your learning from the perspective of the student’s brain. Use the tools here to create the right conditions for change to happen and be creative about how you introduce stress into your learning

Creating change in a student’s brain is the desired outcome of any learning. Neuroscience in learning is understanding how to promote that change.

Welcome to your first lesson in neuroscience.

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