Timothy Moore, Associate Professor of Psychology, Clark Atlanta University
The Faculty Resource Network held a National Symposium on the Millennial Student to address the growing concern for a new generation of students who appear to be presenting educators with a different set of challenges. Many of the presentations focused on pedagogy, student retention, learning styles and mentoring. All of these topics are important in education, but the role of the brain and how it acquires information was the main theme of this session.
The purpose of this presentation was two-fold: 1. participants were reminded how the brain is activated to learn and acquire information; and 2. participants were given brain-based strategies to use in their classroom to enhance learning and memory for Millennial Students. To address the objectives for this session, the field of neuroscience was explored to understand how the brain processes information. Since the topic of discussion for this national symposium was to find ways to reach the current generation of students and to address their unique learning needs, we explored the field of neuroscience as a foundational area of study to enhance student performance.
The goal for this presentation was to provide the participant with general knowledge about the brain and how the brain can be activated to ensure knowledge is gained from a lesson plan. The acquisition of knowledge requires the full capacity of brain functioning, and educators should have knowledge of the neural mechanisms associated with learning as well as the different styles of learning that impact success in the classroom. Educators should be aware of different instructional approaches that can stimulate various sensory mechanisms to activate the brain centers that control movement and influence emotion.
For example, students can be visual, auditory, tactile or kinesthetic learners and there is evidence that the brain is differentially activated under specific learning paradigms. To acquire information from visual stimuli requires the use of the eyes and the activation of the occipital lobe in the back of the brain. To acquire information from auditory stimuli requires the use of the ears and activation of an area on the side of the brain called the temporal lobe. To acquire information from tactile stimuli requires a bodily touch which sends neural messages to an area of the brain called the parietal lobe. To acquire information from kinesthetic stimuli requires the activation of brain centers deep in midbrain and forebrain structures collectively known as the basal ganglia. In sum, the acquisition of new information is dependent upon many portions of the brain, and this simple explanation provided here can help to conceptualize the complexity of the brain’s role in learning.
Added to the complexity that learning styles can activate different areas of the brain is the hemispheric specialization that exists in humans. For example, the left hemisphere may be critical for analytical reasoning, language and linear logic, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with spatial reasoning, emotions, and holistic thinking. Students can exhibit different ways of learning and educators must be aware of the differences to be sensitive when comparing student performance in the classroom.
Since the second part of this session was to focus on strategies to enhance student performance, considerable attention was given to how the brain is activated during learning. The hippocampus, for instance, is the brain area that is highly associated with memory. The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system and this collective group of neural structures is the emotional control center for the nervous system. The neural circuitry connecting the hippocampus to the hypothalamus and the amygdala help to enhance memory when there is an emotional interest in the topic of discussion. Therefore, educators should realize that it makes sense to present information that is emotionally relevant to the student for the information to be properly stored for recall.
As educators, we emphasize that reading is fundamental for learning. Beyond the skill to read, there are some basic elements to learning that are often overlooked and they were discussed during this session. For example, an innovative way to observe the enhancement of student performance is to expose students to basic stimulatory effects linked to smell and movement. Odors and rhythmic music are seldom brought into the classroom environment. Stimulating the olfactory senses (i.e., smell), presenting stimulating music, and activating movement centers in the brain are other strategic approaches to maximize the acquisition of knowledge for Millennial Students. Educators can try exposing students to pleasant aromas during a lecture and then expose the students to the same aroma during testing. Since the student today has music as an integral part of their life, educators can play selected kinds of music during a lecture to engage the student. Along with music, movement can be integral to enhance learning. Therefore, create games with balls in which the students have to keep a beach ball in the air while they are seated. Take breaks during the lecture and have the students move around. Essentially, you want to engage students with multiple stimuli rather than boring Millennial Students with the standard lecture format.
In conclusion, educators must be sensitive to the different learning styles that can be approached to enhance student performance. As a result of implementing these various strategies, the student can develop a pattern of thinking or learning that can affect their performance in class. As educators, we must learn to change with the generations we confront rather than conforming to our old ways of pedagogical instruction. The symposium was structured for us to begin thinking out-of-the-box.