Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

Moment of Learning

For additional information on this topic, refer to "Nobel Prize" in Long-Term Memory

So what happens at the moment of learning, of encoding?

To explain this phenomenon, John Medina, author of the best selling book Brain Rules, uses an example of a blender left running with the lid off. The information is sliced into discrete pieces as it enters the brain and is splattered all over the insides of our mind. Stated formally, signals from different sensory sources are registered in separate brain areas. The information is fragmented and redistributed the instant the information is encountered.

An example of this procedure is to examine the situation of a woman who suffered a stroke and lost her ability to use written vowels. As she wrote, there would be a place for every letter, but the vowels’ spots were left blank! This demonstrates that vowels and consonants are not stored in the same place, resulting in damage to her connective writing ability.

But it goes deeper. When she wrote the sentence, she perfectly preserved the place where the vowels should go. Logically, the place where a vowel should go is stored in a separate place from the vowel itself. Content is stored separately from its context/container.

How then do we keep track of everything? How do features that are registered separately become united to produce perceptions of continuity? It is called the binding problem.

To encode information is to covert data into a code. Creating codes always involves translating information from one form into another, usually for transmission purposes. From a physiological point of view, encoding is the conversion of external sources of energy into electrical patterns that the brain can understand. It organizes information for storage purposes and prepares information for further processing. Encoding involves transforming any outside stimulus into the electrical language of the brain, a form of energy transfer.

Encoding involves all of our senses, and their process centers are scattered throughout the brain. This is the heart of the blender. The brain recruits hundreds of different brain regions and coordinates the electrical activity of millions of neurons. This binding phenomenon keeps tabs on far-flung pieces of information and some researchers believe the hippocampus, the grand central station of memory, is one of the brain regions primarily involved in this process.


“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.