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How Our Brains Take in Information

Many learners find learning boring. Their learning experience is anything but engaging. As teachers and trainers, our job is to reverse this. Understanding and applying the principles around how our brains take in information will help.

Why Bored Learners Don’t Learn

When learners are bored, they become stressed. Stress is a barrier to learning. Knowing how we learn can help us decrease boredom and its associated stress. This leads to deeper learner engagement and comprehension.

How Does Your Brain Takes in Information?

Your brain is continually taking in information from your senses, sight, sound, etc.. The first place this raw data goes is the thalamus. The thalamus processes the data and then decides where it needs to go next.

Think of the thalamus as a central switching area, like a train rail yard. It sends information to the right place. For example, visual information is routed through the occipital lobe, language through the temporal lobe, etc.

Your brain takes in this new information and quickly decides what it means. While it is sent to the right place, it is also routed to other areas of the brain. It does this just in case what’s happening is an emergency. If there is something seems suspicious or potentially threatening, your amygdala activates your acute stress response. This activates your sympathetic nervous system. This causes the lizard part of the brain to take over your thought processing.

When this happens, little learning outside of keeping you safe can happen. This is why boredom is your biggest classroom obstacle. When bored, your learners become stressed. This makes them unable to take in the information you’re trying to give them.

How Does You Brain Chooses What to Pay Attention To?

Usually, information goes into the frontal lobe. Your frontal lobe holds it in short-term memory for 5 to 20 seconds. Your brain scans and then decides if the information is important. Since most new information is irrelevant or trivial, it quickly gets filtered and dismissed. This means it never gets stored. This is also why your learners don’t remember much of what goes on in the in the training session.

When your brain considers information compelling, it sends it to the hippocampus. If the information is important, the hippocampus organizes and stores it. It then sends it to long-term storage in the cortex. This process can take a while, in some cases years. This is how your brain takes in new information and makes it available for retrieval.

Here’s what’s key. If you want your learner’s brains to pay attention, it must deem the information important or useful. By keeping this in mind, we can do a better job of reaching our learners.