The Brain-Based Learning Theory

by Nellie Deutsch

Neuroscience has disclosed important information about the brain and how it learns. It has uncovered "unprecedented revolution of knowledge about the human brain, including how it processes, interprets and stores information" (Sousa, 1998). The new brain-based learning theory "require[s] that we now shift our focus to the learning process" (Sousa, 1998). This information can be used to "facilitate learning" (Jackson, 1999). This paper will discuss how technology can be used to support a brain-based finding that "emotions" are critical to learning.

How learners feel is very important to their learning process. If a learner is enthusiastic and doesn't feel stressed, learning will take place. If the conditions are negative and the learner doesn't feel safe, learning will not take place. Neuroscientists discovered this information about the learning process as they were researching the way the brain learns.

Is the learning process the same today as it was in the past? According to David Sousa, "yesterday's methods worked well for yesterday's students. But the student brain of today is quite different from the one of 15 years ago" (Sousa, 1998). It is, therefore, necessary to study how students' brains work today so that it is possible to enhance their learning. "Today's children spend much more time with television and other electronic media than with their parents" (Sousa, 1998). Technology can cater to these neuroscience brain-based findings in the computer lab. Various Microsoft tools such as PowerPoint presentations, Excel, Word processor and other multimedia functions can be used by the teacher and students instead of using conventional outdated class tools. Since today's brain needs a TV like environment, both sound and animations can be used to suit today's learner. Lessons can be prepared by utilizing the information that is readily available on the internet. Learning can be meaningful as the learner is engaged in "learn[ing] by doing" (Lackney, J. A. 2002). However to avoid frustrations and stress that can interfere with learning, lessons must be planned very carefully "to help structure and focus students' explorations of the Net" (Deal, 1998). This will direct them to the goals at hand. Today's students experience different "patterns" (DeJong, 1999) from those of the past. Brain-based learning findings reveal that "the search for meaning is innate..., occurs through "patterning"... and [that] emotions are critical to [these] patterning" (DeJong, 1999). Meaning must be based on previous interests and "emotions interact with reason to support or inhibit learning" (Sousa, 1998). How students feel in the classroom "determines the amount of attention they devote to... [the lesson]" (Sousa, 1998). It is very important for learners to feel relaxed and safe in the learning environment. Feeling threatened will shut down the learning process and, as Daniel Goleman claims, "hijack" the rest of the brain (Viader, 1996). Teachers can help students understand the impact negative and positive emotions have on learning. "Positive emotions such as love, excitement, enthusiasm and joy enhance the ability to process information and create permanent mental programs" (Sylwester, 1996). Learning cannot take place unless the learner feels "safe"(Sylwester, 1996). "Stress and constant fear, at any age, can circumvent the brain's normal circuits" (Viadero, 1996). And yet, emotions are critical to learning. "Larry Cahill, James McGaugh, and their colleagues...have found that people were better at recalling stories or slides that had aroused strong feelings in them than those that were devoid of emotional context" (Viadero,1996). Emotions can improve memory. Another finding was that emotions can either add or detract from learning. Since learning is based on individual patterning and experiences (Caine, 1997, p. 19), in this case electronic media, it is only natural that these environments be duplicated in school. Learning can no longer be limited to a single confined environment, such as the classroom. Teachers need to "establish an environment that is free from intimidation and rejection, high in acceptable challenge and where the learner experiences active participation and relaxed alertness" (Dwyer,2002). This can be done by giving constant positive and encouraging feedback to the students while they are working in the computer room. Monitoring computer rooms are much easier than conventional classrooms. Individualized lessons are possible so that learners can find meaning in their particular assignments.

Computer based learning such as project work (Deutsch. 2003) or working on WebQuests in teams of three or four is a great way to keep emotions alive. It is very challenging to work with others on a mutual goal. Since social skills are developed at this age, it is only natural for students to want to work in teams. This leads to many discussions and calls for decision making. Students develop character and responsibility for others on the team. At the same time it is very important for the teacher to interact with the students to make sure that team spirit is high. If there are social problems some learners may feel threatened and uncomfortable. This will detract from their learning. Regular reflections and team discussions will help keep the team busy with their work. Daily journal reports are an excellent way to encourage both team and individual reflections on how students feel. These should be handed in regularly.

Technology and computer work is very important. It's a challenge to do projects and learn collaboratively. However, feelings must be taken into account. Teachers must monitor the room at all times. Careful attention should be given to teams that are having difficulties. This provides the teacher a chance to sit with each team in order to discuss the team's progress and encourage the members to speak about how they feel. Feelings are part of the learning process. Students should learn about emotions and their importance to the learning process. Teaching students how to feel enthusiastic about their assignments and projects will enhance their learning. Students can be empowered to find freedom in the Web instead of getting caught in it (Deal, 1998). It is up to educators to find ways of integrating brain-based learning with technology.

© Nellie Deutsch
University of Phoenix
Nellie's English Projects


Deal, N. (1998, August). Getting teacher educators caught in the web. T.H.E. Journal. 26 (1), 50-54. Retrieved January 31, 2004 from

DeJong, L. (1999). Learning through projects in early childhood teacher education. Journal of early childhood teacher education, 20 (3), 317-326. Retrieved February 4, 2004 from

Deutsch, N. (2003). Nellies English projects: Collaborative writing projects. Retrieved February 10, 2004 from

Dwyer, M. B. (2002). Training strategies for the twenty-first century: Using recent research on learning to enhance training. Retrieved February 7, 2004 from

Jackson, J. (1999, Spring) Issue theme: Brain-based learning. The reporter. President's remarks. Retrieved February 2, 2004 from

Lackney, J. A, (2002). 12 Design principals on brain-based learning research. Retrieved January 29 from

Sousa, D.A. (1998, December 16). Is the fuss about brain research justified? Education week, 18 (16), 52, 35. Retrieved January 29, 2004 from

Sylwester, R. (1996). Celebrating Neurons, ASCD. Retieved February 7, 2004 from

University of Phoenix (ED). (2002). Learning and technology: Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing. Retrieved January 29, 2004 from Viadero, D. (1996, September 18). Brain trust. Education week. Retrieved January 29, 2004 from





Copyright © 1998-2004
English Specialist
Trickshot English
All rights reserved.