Archive July 2014

What Can Medical Education Learn from Neurobiology: (Part 2) 0


While trying to stimulate a learner to consider a body of evidence about a biological process, disease mechanism, or planned course of therapy, trying to pay attention to other sources of information are really counterproductive.  I know that we all think we can multitask, that we study better when we have background media going on, or are surrounded by friends.  Our brains are simply not built to really multitask,  What we actually do is Rapid Sequential Tasking where we change our attentional focus from one thing to the next very quickly.  The problem with this is that it does not allow our brains to really build connections in and among the information you are actually studying.

Key Point: Don’t watch TV, text, or yahoo chat while you study. Studying the same material in many different forms will make it easier to remember.

Individual Learning Styles
Individuals have various types of intelligence and show differences in the types of learning that they employ best. Embrace multiple learning styles to provide opportunities to more effectively reach all learners, to provide opportunities for positive feedback and successes, and to reinforce information with multimodal strategies, even for those who excel equally with all approaches.

Key Point: Find out what works best for you and study that way. However, it can still help to learn using different styles as well.

Active Involvement
Doing is learning. And success at doing/learning builds confidence, as has been shown by recent neurobiological studies of human performance during episodic retrieval of remembered information.

Key Point: Get involved with free clinics, research, ect that allows you to use what you’re learning.

Revisiting Information/Concepts Through Multimedia/Sensory Processes
Multiple teaching approaches addressing the same information using different sensory processes are likely to enhance the learning process, potentially brining more neural hardware to bear to process and store information.

Key Point: Again, studying the same material in many different forms will make it easier to remember.

What Can Medical Education Learn from Neurobiology: (Part 1) 0



Michael J. Friedlander et. al. took a look at a couple of decade’s worth of Neuroscience research and came up with a useful “Ten” points about the biological basis for learning that all students and teachers would do well to know. In this particular case they focused it around learning in medical schools, but this holds true for all disciplines, especially ones in which a great deal of material must be learned (or memorized).

We get good at what we do! The more we do something, the less energy it takes to do it as our neural pathways become more efficient at doing the work. This means that less energy is used, resulting in more rapid neural execution, which in turn allows the off-loading to lower-order pathways leaving higher-order pathways available for additional cognitive processing). There is also considerable evidence for the importance of spacing of repetitive review of material to allow for something called memory consolidation. This is where basically we make sense out of all the material.

Key Point: Long-term and easily accessed memories are created by learning a fact, then not thinking about it long enough to “forget” it, and then trying to recall it and, if needed, relearning it.

Reward and Reinforcement
The neural circuitry of the human brain engages in something called “temporal discounting” — that is, the calculation of the relative value of a choice to realize a minor reward in the immediate future versus a reward of a greater value in the more distant future. Medical students have mostly long-term rewards ahead of them.

The students who derive joy and satisfaction from the more immediate goals of understanding as they proceed through their medical education may have a greater chance of using the brain’s capacity to provide rewards on an ongoing basis, thus effectively facilitating their learning process. Learning that engages the student in smaller, more frequent rewards may be more successful than those that rely only on sparsely distributed and high-stakes opportunities for reward. This is increasingly seen in the efficacy of game based learning.

Key Point: Build multiple, frequent, small rewards into your study plan or better yet, actually enjoy the information you are studying. A handful of your favorite snacks, or taking time for a workout is likely to be as reinforcing as the promise of helping your fellow man and/or making six figure income.

Ever heard of “Mirror Neurons”? One of the major breakthroughs in the last decade was learning that your brain can and will learn by seeing someone else doing something or even imagining itself doing something. It is likely that doing it physically yourself is still more effective since it engages the motor neurons in a way that only seeing it or imagining it cannot do. But lets be clear, when athletes and artists visualize doing something perfectly, they are truly learning how to do it perfectly.

Key Point: After someone shows you how to do something, visualize yourself doing the procedure step by step a few times.

Active Engagement
There is considerable neurobiological evidence that functional changes in neural circuitry that are associated with learning occur best when the learner is actively engaged (doing it rather than watching or hearing it). The neural activity during “engagement” is simply higher than when learning passively (lecture, slide show etc.) If there is one thing we are sure of it is that the more parts of your brain that are “lit up” the better your access to memory, the better you will be at making connections to that information when you need to.

Key Point: Go to a Problem Based Learning (PBL) class. Also, see one, do one, teach one.

Too much stress… BAD for learning; a moderate amount of stress… GOOD for learning. When the brain is placed in a moderately stressed state, the ease with which the neurons of the brain fire is increased. This is called synaptic potentiation improving memory (which as we all know is nothing more than a series of connected neurons).

Key Point: Create mildly stressful study situations, perhaps some minor competition in study groups, varying your study locations so you don’t become comfortable in one place, or creating little tests for yourself.

There is increasing evidence of the importance of rest/sleep for the consolidation of memories and the enhancement of their representations from working memory stages into long-term stable form. This research suggests that it is important to have appropriate downtime between intense problem-solving sessions or group venues where detailed quantitative reasoning skills are requested.

Key Point: Getting enough sleep and taking breaks will improve your learning performance.