Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst

Understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying learning is what Babaoo is all about. Understanding the Executive Functions is the first step towards developing and learning our cognitive processes, which are essential for both academic and personal learning. But how are the Executive Functions developed and why are they the basis of all our knowledge? Grégoire Borst and the Babaoo Mag take a closer look! ⬇️
Babaoo The Mag Know your Brain to learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst
Learn how to learn with Grégoire Borst - podcast

In Radio France’s ‘Votre Cerveau’ podcast series, Grégoire Borst, Professor of developmental psychology and educational cognitive neuroscience, explained how the Executive Functions work and why it is so important to develop them correctly in order to learn how to learn. 🧠

Learn how to learn and Attention

Attention, the founding brick of learning mechanisms

Everyday life would be much more complicated if we didn’t have a key Executive Function: Attention. Imagine being at work or school and being unable to concentrate on a task, disrupted by social network notifications, the shouts of classmates in the playground, your phone ringing, cars driving past below the desk,… all factors that would make it impossible to perform tasks from the simplest to the most complex. 📳

Attention plays a major role in our daily lives and is developed very early on in our childhood. It is the Executive Function that gives the Brain the ability to focus on relevant information in a given context. For an adult, this means being able to concentrate on the road when driving while holding a conversation with a passenger. For children at school, it’s the ability to concentrate on what the teacher is explaining despite the whispers in the back of the classroom. 🔊

Attentional blindness: the gorilla test

This ability to ‘erase’ information in order to concentrate on other information is called ‘Attentional Blindness’. The human brain has the ability to focus its attention on certain points. Have you ever heard of the Gorilla Test, in which you are asked to concentrate on the number of times the ball passes from one person to another?

Few people notice that a surprising element crosses the image on first viewing. But what about you? Have you seen the Gorilla?

While today’s children are no less attentive than they were 30 years ago, their attention is much more in demand than before, to the point where it is sometimes extremely difficult for them to choose attentional targets appropriately. 👓

Learn how to learn and Memory

Memory, my beautiful memory, tell me what I must remember

If Attention is the basis of learning, Working Memory is the workshop that enables us to retain and manipulate information for a short period of time. Subjected to a continuous stream of information, the human brain is capable, on average, of retaining up to seven pieces of information at the same time. Generally speaking, the brain only retains the beginning and end of long series of information: this is known as the primacy and recency effect. If you have to remember a telephone number, for example, you are more likely to remember the first and last digits. 🧠

To increase the amount of information retained, the Brain uses association methods; the more it combines, the more it reduces attentional resources. The Brain manipulates information to increase its ability to solve increasingly complex problems.

The different types of memory

Working Memory is particularly sensitive to Attention, but other types of memory also exist, particularly in Long Term Memory. We speak of Semantic Memory, linked to language and school knowledge or Autobiographical Memory linked to memories that are specific to us and Procedural Memory associated with automatisms, such as cycling, walking or driving.

The memory cycle

Memorisation works in 3 stages, which form the memory cycle:

  1. The encoding of information,
  2. The consolidation of information,
  3. The retrieval of information with the aim of reusing it.

Learn how to learn and Inhibition

I think therefore I am, I resist therefore I inhibit

Resisting an automatism and breaking out of habits are possible thanks to Inhibition. When we want (or need) to leave our routine, the prefrontal cortex area takes matters into its own hands. Our brain is quickly programmed to follow a routine: in the morning, we get up, drink our cup of coffee, brush our teeth, get dressed, take the car, follow the road, arrive at the office, drink a second cup of coffee… Inhibition is the ability to say to yourself ‘STOP, I’m going to stop and think’. What if I took the left-hand route instead of the right? Do I need that second cup of coffee? ☕

Inhibition is what allows us to step back and avoid falling into the traps set by certain automatisms.

We mentioned above the principle of how Memory works, in association: the Brain groups together what, for it, deserves to be grouped together. If you are asked to remember a series of words made up of the words ‘dad, mum, man, woman’, ignoring the type of voice reading them (female or male), your brain will probably instinctively associate male voices with the terms ‘man’ and ‘dad’, whereas female voices may be associated with ‘woman’ and ‘mum’. In the same way, the term ‘more than’ in a mathematical statement is basically associated with addition, which can sometimes mislead the child as to which terms should actually be added.

Inhibition is what enables us to step back from these associations and retain what is relevant in a given context.

To inhibit to make room for empathy

Learning to resist also means being able to look beyond one’s own perception and demonstrate heterocentrism, an ability that is not easy to master because we perceive the world from our own point of view. Developing the ability to look at reality from a different perspective is, however, necessary if we are to adapt properly to a world that is changing faster and faster. 👀

Learn how to learn and metacognition

Metacognition, that superpower of hindsight and analysis

Metacognition: definition

Metacognition is the ability to complete a task or solve a problem by stepping back to analyse a situation by paying attention to what’s going on in our heads.

Imagine your child in his classroom, when his teacher asks him to come and solve a calculation on the blackboard. Oops, stage fright, a lump in the stomach and a slight feeling of unease. His ‘little voice’ will reassure him: ‘Everything’s fine, you’re ready, you can stay zen’ and after a few moments of doubt, it’s optimism that wins out: ‘I know how to solve this calculation, I’ve done it before.’

Your child has just metacogitated: he has assessed, planned and anticipated in a few tenths of a second. 💭

Taking a step back to learn from your mistakes

To take this step back and analyse, we need to be able to understand why sometimes success is at the end of the road and why sometimes the adventure ends in failure. By understanding the mistakes we make, we can analyse our failures and learn how not to repeat them. Being able to evaluate our own performance is at the heart of all our judgement skills. 📈

Why is it important to develop good metacognitive judgement? Quite simply to develop the ability to judge our own experience, which is fundamental if we are to learn from our mistakes and not overestimate ourselves. The cognitive mechanism describing the tendency to overestimate oneself is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and can be mitigated by developing one’s metacognition.

Metacognition and learning

Metacognition, or the ability to reflect on one’s own thought processes, plays a crucial role in children’s learning. By enabling them to become aware of their learning strategies, strengths and difficulties, metacognition helps them to become more independent and effective learners.

Educative app for children Babaoo

Learning to learn and Motivation

Motivating yourself and cultivating the spirit of change

Motivation works in two ways: through the promise of an intrinsic or extrinsic reward. It is a fundamental mechanism that lies at the very heart of our learning, since it is thanks to Motivation that humans challenge and surpass themselves. 🏅

Extrinsic motivation

The Extrinsic Motivation is the way our Brain has found to push us to compete with others. The higher the stakes in the competition, the greater the commitment. Firstly because of the context, but also because of the very idea of obtaining a reward, however small. As soon as we hear that we’ve won, our motivation increases and we perform better. An example of this motivation might be working for pay, or studying for a competition with the idea of achieving the best possible result. 👪

Intrinsic motivation

The opposite of Extrinsic Motivation is Intrinsic Motivation, not guided by the performance of others, but by one’s own desire to learn and improve out of desire, in order to gain new experience. It’s a motivation that’s unique and personal to us. From then on, the competitive aspect exists only with oneself. Another mechanism is put in place in the brain: pleasure. Learning based on pleasure is learning that goes more easily. ⛹️

Prioritising Intrinsic Motivation to promote learning

In our schools, it is still often Extrinsic Motivation that dominates, yet according to Grégoire Borst, the prospect of obtaining personal satisfaction would be more powerful on long-term motivation than that of a final reward. We are at the heart of the learning reactor here, since cultivating the pleasure of learning fosters healthy motivation.

From a very early age, when children are first learning things, such as words, steps and games, they experience genuine pleasure in learning. This pleasure tends to diminish when they enter the school system, where intrinsic motivation sometimes fades in favour of extrinsic motivation, the driving force behind which is the dreaded report card. 🎒

Learning to learn and Emotion regulation

Our socio-emotional skills play a key role in our learning. When we correctly identify and understand our emotions and those of others, we gradually develop the skills of emotional regulation and social adaptation. We learn to live with others!

It is through the limbic system that we are able to feel emotions, thanks to brain processing that generates a cascade of physiological reactions, such as crying or laughing.

Regulating your emotions: a gradual learning process

Being able to recognise and regulate your emotions is a gradual learning process :

  • Baby, we are incapable of managing our emotions. We cry, scream to make ourselves understood, before only learning many years later to recognise and then control them.
  • As adolescents, we slip back into a troubled period during which hormones and cognitive changes disrupt emotional management. Our limbic system resembles a pressure cooker at the end of its development, while the Prefrontal Cortex, which regulates emotions, will have to wait several more years to reach maturity, around our 25th birthday!

Emotions and learning

Emotion regulation is essential in the learning process for children, as it directly influences their ability to concentrate, persevere in the face of challenges and interact positively with their peers and teachers. When children learn to manage their emotions, such as frustration or anxiety, they are better equipped to face academic obstacles without becoming discouraged.

Emotional regulation also fosters a more harmonious classroom climate, where children can help each other and engage in collaborative activities. In short, teaching children emotional regulation skills contributes to their personal well-being and academic success.

The Babaoo recap

Attention, Memory and Inhibition are three Executive Functions that are essential for getting started on the adventure of learning, whether it’s learning a poem, playing the drums or memorising the choreography for the school fair dance show. Being able to focus your attention on a task despite distractions, remembering information so that you can manipulate and use it and, lastly, getting out of your routine by finding quick solutions that suit the context in which you find yourself, are all proof of mastery of these three Executive Functions.

Developing our Inhibition skills also contributes to the regulation of Emotions, which is necessary for children to learn and mobilise their knowledge calmly and in a peaceful classroom climate.

Learning is based on a set of cognitive processes that develop throughout life, at the heart of which Metacognition also comes to play a fundamental role.

Metacognition, or the ability to reflect on one’s own thought processes, also plays a crucial role in young children’s learning. By enabling them to become aware of their learning strategies, strengths and difficulties, Metacognition helps them to become more independent and effective learners.

Finally, in this series of podcasts, Grégoire Borst also looks at the role of Motivation, and invites us to try to develop intrinsic, personal Motivation, improvement ‘for its own sake’, in children, rather than extrinsic (for the grade and the parents’ pride).

Educative app for children Babaoo

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