How we learn: The Principles and Mechanics. Chapter one.





It’s funny how from a very young age we are told the importance of learning and gaining knowledge so we can eventually leave school and education to be very successful in our lives. We have teachers telling us what we need to learn and take in, we have our exercise books so we can refer back to anything we have been taught and of course we have our parents teaching us what to do and what not do at home and lastly we have our friends showing us the latest trends, gimmicks and what not.

But nobody tells us how to actually learn in the first place.

In my experience I think this is huge and rarely addressed, it is one of the most basic things we are told throughout not only our adolescence but most of our adulthood though we are not actually taught how to do this. Now if this was handled in the first place then a lot more people would have easier mental access to their areas of interest and learning wouldn't be deemed as a chore, it would be more like a process which in itself would be more understandable and even enjoyable due to greater and easier comprehension.

In this post and the next I'm going to shed some light on some of the ways we learn and what we can do to be more aware of the processes of how we go about learning so you can go away and observe yourself and maybe others while understanding how it all happens and comes together.



What happens in our brains when we are learning. 
Without going into too much detail about how the brain works I'm going to tell you a few of the relevant nuts and bolts about the brain which are actually working in respect to learning and what they do when you learn something new and what happens when you practice or don't practice what you have learnt:

Neurons
Neurons are basic cells of the nervous system, they act to send, retrieve and process information to and from the brain at a speed of around 200 mph via electro-chemical nerve signals. There are around 100 billion neurons in the brain, these cells are what holds and stores information in your brain much like a floppy disk (remember those?) there are different types of neurons, I'll cover a few here though there are more. 

Sensory neurons
Sensory neurons receive information from the outside world through our five senses. They run from stimulus receptors to the central nervous system        

Inter-neurons
Inter-neurons receive information from one or more other neurons and intergrates this and transmits information to other neuron. Alot of the brain is made up of inter-neurons.
Motor neurons
Motor neurons send signals to muscles to move the body. This can range from moving limbs to turning eyes to making the heart keep pumping even moving your tongue. most motor neurons are stimulated by inter-neurons, although they can be stimulated also directly by sensory neurons.



Parts of the neuron

Soma
The soma is the main cell body of the neuron that contains the nucleus and much of the other life of the neuron. Dendrites and axons reach out from the soma to connect with other neurons much like a branch.
Dendrite
dendrites stretch out from the soma much like branches from a tree breaking down into smaller branches and twigs (dendrite Greek for the word tree), dendrites receive information, connecting with axons from other neurons.
Axons
There is usually one long axon per neuron that reaches out to connect with other neurons, this can divide into smaller branches normally towards the end of the axon allowing it to connect with multiple other neurons in close proximity. Axons often connect with dendrites though they can also connect with the soma or even other axons. The basic messages transmitted down the axon are electrical/chemical events, are called action potentials.

How do neurons work? 
Neurons work by sending electrical signals through the axon, the neuron sends an electrical impulse of information through its arms. Neurons don't actually ever touch although they are very close to each other, the space between a neurons axon and another neurons dendrite are called a synapse. This is where the information exchange occurs much like sending an email from one email address to another, this process is known as synaptic transmission. Once the synaptic transmission occurs, the data enters through the dendrites, the electrical signal is now successfully transferred from the first neuron to the second one. The signal then moves to the axon and passes through the synapse to the next neurons dendrite and so on...

Now when your learning something new, inside your brain you are creating new connections, a lot of new connections. And the more you learn the more connections you make thus creating a network of neuro-brain cells. But over time these connections weaken and deteriorate if what you have learnt is not practised or reviewed (much like if you haven't lifted heavy weights in a long time you wont be as strong as you were when you was actively lifting them) and by exercising your new learnt skill you will nurture these junctions between these neurons, called a synapses maintaining a healthy memory only through repetition. 

Within the next chapter I will be going through a few principles and ways in how we go about actually learning.


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