Brains Feature

Learning and the Brain

As we look ahead to back-to-school, a semester fraught with uncertainty and a school-from-home environment either part-time or full-time, the question of serving our children’s education and how they learn best has never been more important. Sanjay Sarma, head of the Open Learning effort at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written a book on the modern science of learning. Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn explores how exactly learning works, what conditions are most conducive, and whether traditional classroom methods are actually effective.

Is the Zoom model of the classroom a good thing or a bad thing? Is that even the right question to ask? It can’t come down to merely the transformative new technologies in education, Sarma says about the future of education. Did radio render textbooks obsolete? Did the television become the new blackboard in the classroom? There is the reason the mainstream method, or “factory model,” of teaching has endured for more than 150 years. While virtual classrooms can open up new opportunities, especially at the higher education level (we would no longer need to be restricted by geography, for example), it’s important to look at not only the technology available but also the way people learn. We need to start with the brain.

Suggested new books on the brain:

Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn by Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto

Grasp is a groundbreaking look at the science of learning: how it’s transforming education and how we can use it to discover our true potential, as individuals and across society by a renowned MIT professor. “Delightful as well as convincing in its plea that educators place learning over winnowing and access over exclusivity.” —Kirkus, Starred Review


Angel & The Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Award-winning journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa began her investigation with a personal interest—when diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder years ago, she was convinced there was something physical going on in her brain as well as her body, though no doctor she consulted could explain how the two could be interacting in this way. This book is a thrilling story of scientific detective work and medical potential that illuminates the newly understood role of microglia—an elusive type of brain cell that is vitally relevant to our everyday lives.


How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now by Stanislas Dehaene

The exciting advancements in artificial intelligence of the last twenty years reveal just as much about our remarkable abilities as they do about the potential of machines. How We Learn is an illuminating dive into the latest science on our brain’s remarkable learning abilities and the potential of the machines we program to imitate them



Electric Brain: How the New Science of Brainwaves Reads Minds, Tells Us How We Learn, and Helps Us Change for the Better by R. Douglas Fields

In Electric Brain, world-renowned neuroscientist and author R. Douglas Fields takes us on an enthralling journey into the world of brainwaves, detailing how new brain science could fundamentally change society, separating fact from hyperbole along the way.

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