Foundations of Learning – James Zull

In mid-August I first wrote about James Zull’s book, The Art of Changing the Brain – Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, which is arranged in three parts.  The remainder of the first part of the book discusses the role of emotions and feelings in learning, with emphasis on Kolb’s “transformation of experience”. According to Zull, this “process of changing data into knowing” is transformative in three important ways:

• by using past experience we determine and carry out plans for the future

• rather than remain a passive “receiver” of information, we become a “producer” of knowledge

• we take control of our learning by figuring out what we need to know and actively pursue finding it out

Much of Zull’s writing focuses on the limbic system – the home base of our emotions. Zull gives the amygdala and hypothalamus a lot of attention while discussing motivation (extrinsic and intrinsic), pleasure, movement, and feelings. Of course, each of these directly impacts what we remember, thus bringing the hippocampus into the act.

The process of learning ideally costars with motivation, and Zull sets the stage for some of the states necessary for learning.

• the learner needs to feel in control

• the learner needs to see a reason for learning

• the learner will have some emotion or feeling that needs to be taken into account

It is the interplay of these that helps determine what gets sent to memory and what gets tossed by the wayside.

In the second part of the book Zull discusses the idea of networks. More about that in my next post 🙂


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