UDL, Brain-based Learning and 21st Century Skills

When I got in to this graduate program with a focus on Inclusive Education and Neurosciences I was very excited about it but I must say I wasn't seeing how fully the two concepts linked together. I'm also really seeing how both of these concepts fit in to concepts that are being termed "21st Century Skills".  This is a great video that speaks to what I've been thinking about a lot lately (and now is being reinforced with the research that I'm doing in both the areas of inclusive education and neurosciences).



I'm having a hard time putting down everything that I've learned in the neurology class this summer because much of it affirms my gut level instincts about learning.  We spent most of the class learning how the brain works and it is only now as I begin to digest and process that I'm seeing how it all fits in to educational practices.  I'm finding myself hungry for more information and so have continued to dig in to research journals related to the topic.  At the same time I'm trying to get a deeper understanding of Universal Design for Learning as this will be a key element to my course this fall.  Then I throw in doing my regular blog reading and I'm seeing a common theme across the three.

UDL speaks to engaging the recognition, affective and strategic networks of the brain through multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.  UDL really addresses how to set up a classroom to ensure that all students are actively engaged and responsible for their learning.  It speaks to ensuring proper supports as well as using "best practices" when it comes to teaching.  It is written for every student and the potential to really move education in to the now because it is deeply rooted in technology - but its definitely not all about technology.  (CAST UDL Website)

We spent some time learning about "memory" in our neurology class this summer.  It is a fascinating topic and I know there is still much to learn but the reality is that when we speak to students "learning" something we are saying that they have moved the material in to long term memory.  I think what was most striking in all this though is that when we test if a student knows something we are actually testing if they are retaining it in their "working memory" as this is the system that relies on the conscious rehearsal type of learning.  It seems that working memory and long term memory are two different systems that require different parts of the brain (i.e. require different new synaptic connections to be made).  There is a far greater chance that we move something in to working memory if we are engaging different parts of the brain in the process.  So things like collaboration, problem based learning, using multiple methods of representation, making connections, creating, projects....etc. will actually build more connections than more traditional approaches to education.  There is much to say but I will say only one more thing and that is that as we move information from the environment in to our brains for processing, the limbic system lights up and this part of the system is related to emotion.  This speaks to the need for safe and engaging learning environments and activities as before anything gets to working or long term memory it needs to pass through "sensory memory".  Things stay here for a short amount of time and in that time we make decisions as to weather we are going to hold them in our memory for longer to not attend to them.  We can affect how long our students will hold something there - which means we can also affect if things will move in to a place where they have the potential to make new connections in the brain.  Student engagement therefore becomes a key to learning - and we engage students by applying new knowledge to prior knowledge, encouraging interaction, using multiple means of representation, having them plan an active rather than a passive role...etc.

It is easy to see how this all ties in to movements that are referred to as transforming education or focusing on 21st century skills.  It makes the video at the beginning of this post make even more sense.

Right now I'm just really excited about the learning journey that I'm on right now - both online and through my Masters program!

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