brain research distance ed

The Implications of Brain Research for Distance Education

Katrina A. Meyer
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership
University of North Dakota

posted on FB in 2013

The brain is actually three brains: the ancient reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the cortical brain. This article will focus on the limbic brain, because it may be most important to successfully using interactive video or web-based video. The limbic brain monitors the external world and the internal body, taking in information through the senses as well as body temperature and blood pressure, among others. It is the limbic brain that generates and interprets facial expressions and handles emotions, while the cortical brain handles symbolic activities such as language as well as action and strategizing. The two interact when an emotion is sent from the limbic to the cortical brain and generates a conscious thought; in response to a feeling of fear (limbic), you ask, “what should I do?” (cortical).

The importance of direct eye contact and deciphering body language is also important for sending and picking up clues about social context.

The loss of social cues is important because it may affect the quality of the content of the presentation (by not allowing timely feedback or questions) but also because students may feel less engaged and become frustrated with the interaction, and subsequently lower their assessment of the class and the instructor (Reeves & Nass, 1996). Fortunately, faculty can provide such social cues verbally, once they are aware of the importance of helping students use these new media.

Attachment theory also supports the importance of physical and emotional connections.

As many a struggling teacher knows, students are often impervious to learning new concepts. They may replay the new information for a test, but after time passes, they revert to the earlier (and likely wrong) information. This is referred to as the “power of mental models.” As explained in Marchese (2000), when we view a tree, it is not as if we see the tree in our head, as in photography.

The coping strategies of the two hemispheres are fundamentally different. The left hemisphere’s job is to create a belief system or model and to fold new experiences into that belief system. If confronted with some new information that doesn’t fit the model, it relies on Freudian defense mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate – anything to preserve the status quo. The right hemisphere’s strategy is to play “Devil’s Advocate,” to question the status quo and look for global inconsistencies. When the anomalous information reaches a certain threshold, the right hemisphere decides that it is time to force a complete revision of the entire model and start from scratch (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 136).

While much hemispheric-based research has been repudiated as an oversimplification (Gackenbach, 1999), the above description of how new information eventually overwhelms an old world view may be the result of multiple brain functions – some of which work to preserve our models and others to alter – that help us both maintain and change as needed.

Self-talk is the “the root of empathy, understanding, cooperation, and rules that allow us to be successful social beings. Any sense of moral behavior requires thought before action” (Ratey, 2001, p. 255).

Healy (1999) argues that based on what we know about brain development in children, new computer media may be responsible for developing brains that are largely different from the brains of adults. This is because “many brain connections have become specialized for . . . media” (p. 133); in this view, a brain formed by language and reading is different from a brain formed by hypermedia. Different media lead to different synaptic connections being laid down and reinforced, creating different brains in youngsters raised on fast-paced, visually-stimulating computer applications and video games. “Newer technologies emphasize rapid processing of visual symbols . . . and deemphasize traditional verbal learning . . . and the linear, analytic thought process . . . [making it] more difficult to deal with abstract verbal reasoning” (Healy, 1999, p. 142).


more on distance ed in this IMS blog

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