Three Key Ways to optimise how the Brain Learns

October 27th, 2012 by Sara

Guest post by David Morgan.

Children spend so much of their life in a classroom. The average person spends fourteen thousand, one hundred and forty-five hours of life at school! But there are a few key ways that help the brain learn more easily and make that time better spent:

1. Prioritizing play

Learning is optimized for children and many adults in an active, play-based learning environment. I think we would all agree that boredom is the death of learning! When schoolchildren are actively engaged in completing a learning task, it is more likely that the knowledge acquired will be retained by the brain. Numerous pedagogical studies have proven this principle over the years; trawl through your search engine to find many pages of relevant results!

Children that are primarily kinaesthetic learners should have an extra emphasis on this kind of active learning, though all learning styles can benefit from it.

2. Shrinking Stress

If boredom is the death of learning, then stress is the enemy of education. Neurologically, stress elevates your levels of cortisol and adrenaline which in turn reduces peripheral brain activity. You may have heard of this effect before: when the brain interprets there being a threat or risk of some kind, it shuts down all higher functioning and addresses the stressful situation at hand through the classic fight, flight or freeze response. All kinds of knowledge acquisition involve higher brain functioning, so any activities which create anxiety in the classroom environment will actually prevent learning.

If a child is overly anxious, then it is important to focus on increasing his or her confidence through short learning exercises where failure is an unlikely outcome.

3. Mobilizing Emotion

Emotion is one of the most prominent players in memory creation. In fact, selecting which memories to retain is one of the crucial roles of our emotions. As you might expect, when your emotions are disengaged, memory retention is much reduced. In an interesting paradox, the standard Victorian method of creating an atmosphere of fear or punishment in the classroom would have reduced the ability of the students to perform due to stress, but counteracting that, it might have helped them remember some knowledge taught. As a rule, however, scare tactics in the classroom are unadvisable! Positively enforced emotions lead to optimum performance AND good memory retention.

David Morgan is Managing Director of Oxford Learning Solutions, creators of the Easyread System, which teaches struggling learners how to read. Easyread specializes in cases of dyslexia, highly visual learning styles, and auditory processing deficits. Find out more at and follow the latest literacy news at