Improve your learning - what does the science say? with Jared Cooney Horvath - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Improve your learning – what does the science say? with Jared Cooney Horvath

Written by on October 27, 2015 in Learning with 0 Comments

Jared-Cooney-Horvath (1)“Teach the why, not the what,” Jared Cooney Horvath says.

Today he’s here to teach us the ‘why’ of brain-training programmes. “The research has been incredibly clear: brain-training games work really, really well… for about 48 hours,” Jared says.

Jared says there are two ways we experience the world: bottom up and top down. Bottom up is when the world throws an experience at you, shows you how things work – for example, when an accident happens and we react to it. “Top down is when you tell the world how you’re going to see it.” Jared gives us several examples of optical illusions where there are two simultaneous images contained within the one picture. You can feel the moment you shift between the two images, and although you can’t see both at the same time, you can control which one you’re going to focus on.

Another principle of how our brains work is transference. If you develop some skills in one area, you can take what you’ve learned in one and throw it into a related area. For example, poker players who take their skills to the stock market.

If you take one skill and just ‘drill it’ – do the exercise over and over – this is a bottom-up approach. You will be great at that skill, but the only transfer you’ll get is to something very similar, a ‘near transfer’. Tiger Woods may be an amazing golf player, but he can’t throw a baseball.

Top down skills help us with ‘far transfer’, being able to transfer skills more widely, and this is where the question of brain-training comes in. “When you brain-train, you’re going to get really good at brain-training games. But as soon as you try to apply those skills outside of the video game, they go away.”

Schools are now using brain-training games to help children with literacy and numeracy, but is this the right approach?

“When you’re doing something new, you access everything you’ve done before – you’re expanding your top-down view of the world,” Jared says. However, once you’ve learned a particular brain-training game, it’s all bottom-up. “If you want a good take-home from brain-training, it’s this: do new things.”

“What you’re doing when you learn something new is reshuffling the way you see the world.” But once you ‘get’ something, it loses its novelty and its ability to help you transfer those skills widely. Brain-training games unfortunately don’t introduce enough novelty to keep you improving your learning.

“I could have given you the facts,” Jared says. But this would have been a bottom-up approach, and we would have forgotten most of what he’d said in the coming days. “You now know a rule set, you’re meta-cognitive thinking about this topic,” Jared says.

“Get out there and top down it!”


Jared Cooney Horvath is the co-founder The Education Neuroscience Initiative, PhD student and researcher at the Science of Learning Research Centre, University of Melbourne

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