On Mastering Learning – 5/20/20

Photo ID 18466049 © Skypixel I Dreamstime.com

On Mastering Learning

May 20, 2020

Welcome to an in-depth discussion on “how we learn” and “how we can learn better.” Until very recently the idea of being taught how to learn was a misnomer. Current research has unlocked numerous brain secrets including: how the human brain actually learns and grows, its limitless learning potential; and that learning is completely controlled by you, the learner!

Healing Brain

This world pandemic has changed forever our perception and reality … laying down a wholly new neural network based on individual experiences. All of us … students, faculty, staff, corporate sponsors … for a time set aside those worker roles … renewing and strengthening our focus as parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters … caring neighbors, community supporters and advocates. Family, friends and all connected to us experience first-hand … or vicariously … a brain/body connection. With awakened appreciation, we welcome our brain as healer!

The healing brain is a healthy brain … and healthy brains suffer losses and renew spirits. Healthy brains support us in sickness as well as in health … healthy brains allow us to mourn; nurture our families; care for neighbors … and create new futures.

Trust your brain … it knows how to do this … with grace. Probably, as a collective, the last time we experienced as traumatic an assault as this was at birth … as a defenseless child. You were not alone then … as you are not alone and defenseless now. Within your brain is that innate desire to make sense of the world. So, here we are with all life’s pieces … emerging to continue this human quest for making sense of our world.

Triune Brain

Apropos to this discussion of the brain’s neural interpretation of life’s experiences, and making sense in a shattered world, is an extension of that concept. Interestingly, while one brain center interprets the experience, another center ascribes a behavior … an action, or reaction!

In this context of humans’ search for greater understanding, Dr. Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Model provides us with tools to support this quest. Here we find a barometer, an insight into human reactions, and a gauge to measure our own internal progression.
Dr. MacLean posits that we have … not one brain, but three brains! He orders these brains based on their evolution: first, the old reptilian brain; followed by the limbic brain; and finally, in order of development, a higher-order “thinking” brain, the cortex.

Reptilian Brain: The oldest among the three, is actually the brain stem, located at the base of the skull. Here resides our “fight or flight” brain, the survival brain. Fully functioning at birth, this brain reigns, handling basic bodily functions necessary for survival such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature and orientation in space. Basic human needs for food, shelter, caring and survival are the business of old reptilian brain. Threaten reptilian brain and the outcomes manifest widely varying responses and sensations, within yourself and others.

Responses consistent with reptilian’s character might arouse a sense of will, protectionism, defensiveness, tenacity, or patience and trust… both the positive and negative aspects of each trait. For example, as we endure this extended state of sheltered living, reptilian stirs within us… “How much longer?” the body urges.

Limbic System: Evolution presented this emotional brain, the feeling/action brain, between 300-200 million years ago. Born with a limbic system, maturity accumulates between 10 and12 years of age.

Due to its breadth of input, processing and output of multiple sensory mechanisms, this center has earned the designation of “Grand Central Station.” As a switching center, encoding events from short-term memory to long-term memory occur at this hub … along with an assignation of behaviors to those urges generated in reptilian brain! Depending on maturation of the limbic brain (with assistance from our higher-order “thinking” brain), behaviors vary widely. Witness, at this time, the various actions assigned to reptilians urges within yourself? your household?… community?… state? … country? … What do you observe? … Perhaps you’ve heard of the increases in alcoholism and abuse; or seen and heard news reports of …

Behaviors ranging from stubborn tenacity and protectionism of individual rights … to measured study of scientific evidence in support of the broader community; limbic brain “struts reptilian’s stuff!” At one end of the scale reigns reptilian; whereas the latter response shows influence of more complex thought attributed to the higher-order brain.

Cortex / Neocortex: MacLean’s third brain makes man, as species, uniquely human … as the Cortex, the “new” brain, showcases our center for thinking and reasoning. The human brain’s most celebrated achievement, along with language, perception, intelligence, and consciousness … is thought! This outermost layer of the brain, the “grey matter,” a thin, wrinkly, grey layer, home to the executive functions, specializes in planning, problem solving, creativity and decision making. Within this center reside those functions that produce higher-order outcomes, more seasoned, mature thought and behavior. Cortex brain collects data, tests best scenarios, considers possibilities, proposes solutions … and asks, “What If?”

For purposes of this blog, the Triune Brain discussion provides a lens by which to enhance perspective and offers an alternative point of view. Our hope is that On Mastering Learning provides pathways to unlock the limitless learning potential of our adult students by way of “knowing how the brain works” within the context of life’s curriculum at home, at work, in the classroom, and as a contributing member of society. Be safe and be well, my friend.

Disclaimer: Dr. MacLean’s 1960’s evolutionary Triune Brain Model was never embraced by the neuroscientific community to which he belonged. Rather the model’s usefulness is applied in the field of psychology. This updated discussion incorporates current scientific findings on the internal operations of brain centers and blended precepts from child development.

To learn more, see: Dr. Paul MacLean; Triune Brain; “formative” years; reptilian brain; limbic system; and cortex/neocortex.


About the Author

Mentored by Malcolm Knowles (long considered the “father of adult education” in America), Dr. Alice F. Dyer has devoted her professional career to a brain-based approach to human development via teaching and training. She founded Corporate College Services in 1997. For more than 20 years, CCS has championed accelerated learning in the workplace.