Do you know how learning takes place at the brain level? If it’s the same in children and adults? Are we really good at multitasking? Do you know the latest techniques for observing our brains in action? Test your knowledge by answering the following five questions.
1. True or false? Brain functioning related to learning is the same in adults and children.
Neuroscience has confirmed two major distinctions between adult and child brains that affect how we learn throughout life.
First, neuronal connections are not well established in children, whereas they are in adults. Neurons analyze, transmit and store information in memory while structuring the appropriate response. We can therefore say that adults are more efficient, but since their habits are well established, the mistakes they make are more difficult to correct.
Secondly, the prefrontal cortex, which is the hub of several cognitive functions, including language, reasoning and working memory, is one of the last brain regions to reach maturity. As a result, adults have better control over their learning than children and adolescents.
2. For each statement, find the duration associated with it.
Duration: 5-10 minutes; 0.25 seconds; 3-4 times per second; 25 minutes.
A) The amount of time it takes for the brain to re-focus on a task after a distraction. B) The minimum amount of time required for the brain to switch from one task to another. C) The rate at which the perception-action loop occurs, which is the basis of our nervous system’s functioning and corresponds to the number of decisions made by the brain per second. D) The duration of the micro-objectives that it is recommended to set to maximize our attention in a task.
A) 25 minutes. This is the amount of time it takes for the brain to re-focus on a task following a distraction. However, the typical worker has only 11 minutes to do this.
B) 0.25 seconds. This is the minimum amount of time required for the brain to switch from one task to another.
C) 3 to 4 times per second. It is at this frantic rate that the perception-action loop that is the basis of the functioning of our nervous system occurs. We are therefore talking about 3 to 4 decisions made by the brain per second… At this rate, most of these decision processes are synonymous with reflexes.
D) 5 to 10 minutes. To maximize our attention in a task, cognitive neuroscientist and attention specialist Jean-Philippe Lachaux suggests that we set ourselves micro-objectives of 5 to 10 minutes each.
3. Which of the following statements is incorrect?
A) A young child’s brain is like a “blank page”. B) A baby can intuitively tell the difference between two or a dozen objects. C) Once one learning process is automated, the brain is free to move on to the next. D) For optimal results in lesson repetition, study in a concentrated manner over short periods of time at spaced intervals. E) We could consciously memorize only 4 or 5 elements.
No, the baby’s brain is not devoid of knowledge… As proof, babies already have a sense of numbers: they can intuitively evaluate quantities, for example by knowing the difference between 2 objects or a dozen. During their first year, children already recognize all the phonemes of their mother tongue.
In short, the little human beings have an excellent “learning algorithm”, which means that by the age of 3, they can associate symbols – especially numbers – with objects and thus begin to do mathematics. As for the language circuits, they are set up as early as 2 months and are well established by the age of 5.
4. True or false? We could efficiently accomplish more than two tasks simultaneously but under certain conditions.
Neuroscientists do not fully agree on this question, but we are beginning to get some insight. One thing is certain: the number of tasks we can do effectively is quite small and the more the brain is involved, the greater the risk of errors (Skaugset et al., 2016). After observing, by neuroimaging, the brain activity of some thirty volunteer participants engaged in multitasking, Inserm researchers Sylvain Charron and Étienne Koechlin (2010) concluded that the brain was not able to efficiently perform more than two tasks at a time. For neuroscientist Scott Huettel of Duke University, however, it is conceivable that more than two tasks could be processed simultaneously, but this would depend on the nature of the tasks.
5. Select the correct term to complete each of the following statements about brain imaging.
Terms: grey matter; connectivity; connections; new learning
Using a type of MRI called “Diffusion MRI”, Denis Le Bihan developed in the years 1990-2000 an image analysis program to map the ________ of the brain. This method has the particularity of calculating the micro-movements of water molecules present in the nerve fibres of the brain, the diffusion of water being slower when it is perpendicular to the direction of the nerve fibres. Remember that these nerve fibres, also called axons, form the white matter of the brain that connects different areas ________, and that the brain is nearly 80% water! Le Bihan’s image analysis program reconstructs the path of axons in three dimensions from the images it makes of them in several directions. At present, this is the only existing way to visualize the spatial arrangement of brain nerve fibres and all the ________ between the different regions of the human brain. This type of MRI has been used in a recent study that revealed that, contrary to what was thought, ________ can leave its trace in the cortex very quickly, after as little as an hour.
The complete, correct statements are as follows:
Using a type of MRI called “Diffusion MRI”, Denis Le Bihan developed in the years 1990-2000 an image analysis program to map the connectivity of the brain. This method has the particularity of calculating the micro-movements of water molecules present in the brain’s nerve fibres, the diffusion of water being slower when it is perpendicular to the direction of the nerve fibres.
Remember that these nerve fibres, also called axons, form the white matter of the brain that connects different areas of grey matter and that the brain is nearly 80% water! Le Bihan’s image analysis program reconstructs the path of axons in three dimensions from the images it makes of them in several directions. At present, this is the only existing means of visualizing the spatial arrangement of brain nerve fibres and all the connections between the different regions of the human brain.
This type of MRI has been used in a recent study that revealed that, contrary to what was thought, new learning can leave its mark on the cortex very quickly, in as little as an hour.
Catherine Meilleur has over 15 years of experience in research and writing. Having worked as a journalist and educational designer, she is interested in everything related to learning: from educational psychology to neuroscience, and the latest innovations that can serve learners, such as virtual and augmented reality. She is also passionate about issues related to the future of education at a time when a real revolution is taking place, propelled by digital technology and artificial intelligence.