Are you sure you know your brain?

1st September 2021

Dr Lara Boyd, a Neuroscientist and Physical Therapist at the University of British Columbia, argues that there is no universal recipe to learning, and that every student can thrive. The success simply depends on the pace, type and style of the ‘training’ we adopt in each individual case. 

Brain research is one of the great frontiers in the understanding of human physiology, and in the consideration of what makes us who we are. And every time we learn a new fact or skill, we change our brain by making new connections (neuron pathways) - this is described as neuroplasticity. Nothing is more effective than practice at helping us to learn. However, Dr Boyd’s brain research proves that «there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning», which means that there is no universal recipe for learning!   

«Consider the popular belief that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to learn and to master a new motor skill. I can assure you it’s not quite that simple. For some of us, it’s going to take a lot more practice, and for others it may take far less. So, the shaping of our plastic brains is far too unique for there to be any single intervention that’s going to work for all of us. This realisation has forced us to consider something we call personalised medicine. And I believe we must consider not just personalised medicine, but also personalised learning.» 

This idea helps us to understand why some children can thrive in traditional education settings (mainstream schools with large classrooms), and others require a different, personalised approach through one-to-one and small group tutorials to achieve better academic results.

The research explains why some of us can learn languages easily, yet others can pick up any sport and excel. And that is pretty amazing! Understanding these differences, these individual patterns, this variability and change in the way our brain works, is going to enable the next great advance in neuroscience and the system of education at large.  

«Study how and what you learn best. Repeat those behaviours that are healthy for your brain and break those behaviours and habits that are not. Practise. Learning is about doing the work that your brain requires. So, the best strategies are going to vary between individuals. 

You know what, they’re even going to vary within individuals. So, for you, learning music may come very easily, but learning to snowboard, much harder. You and your plastic brain are constantly being shaped by the world around you.» 

Dr Boyd directs the Brain Behaviour Lab at the University of British Columbia. Her TEDx talk “After this your brain will not be the same” of 2015, has over 25 million views now. 

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