We need motivation to learn

Whether in the US, Asia or Europe, new scientific studies all point in the same direction: we need excitement to learn. This is the conclusion that numerous researchers have reached after analyzing how the brain works while we study, work or engage in other intellectual pursuits. This new discipline is known as educational neuroscience or neuroeducation, and the goal is to place emotions at the center of the learning process.

The findings of a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2010 marked a turning point for scientists in the sector after a group of researchers used a sensor to monitor brain activity in a college student 24 hours a day. The findings of the study were astonishing: the student’s brain activity measured during lectures is similar to that observed when watching TV. In other words, very low. The MIT study put a question mark over the passivity of traditional learning and called for new methods to activate the brain and enhance learning.

Based on similar scientific studies, neuroeducation researchers are recommending that lectures be replaced by concept maps, interactive videos, gamified activities and more active student participation. Another key factor is teamwork. “The brain is a social organ that learns by doing things with other people”, said José Ramón Gamo, Director of the Masters Program in Educational Neuroscience at The Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, in a recent article published in El País newspaper.

Increasingly, schools, universities and public institutions are opting for this type of emotional learning. Lots of children learn addition and subtraction through practical activities such as inventing a currency that they then exchange at a pretend-market in the classroom. What is more, gamification techniques, games and competitions are being used to teach grammar, geography and history. The ultimate goal is to motivate and engage students by activating larger parts of the brain (and for longer), thus improving the learning experience.

These new trends are also gaining momentum in the world of business. Companies spend billions of dollars on courses for their employees, but most of them fail to pique their enthusiasm. To solve the issue, companies are introducing gamification (the latest buzzword with human resources leaders) and game-based learning (the fastest growing trend in corporate learning). The goal is to harness new discoveries in educational neuroscience, which José Ramón Gamo sums up with passion and conviction: “The brain needs excitement to learn”.

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