The Neuroscience of Learning: Myths, Pedagogy and Technology, Changing the Way We Teach to Enhance Student Learning

Workshop Session 1

Brief Abstract

This workshop will engage all attendees at any level in a lively session on the Neuroscience of Learning. You will participate in live research and hands-on activities that demonstrates how the brain learns and retains learning for the long term. Lastly, you will participate in busting neuro-myths and learn how to apply brain learning to pedagogy and technology used in online courses.


Dr. Karen Srba is the Vice President of Academic & Instructional Technology for American Public University System (APUS). She reports to the President's Chief of Staff. Dr. Srba heads a team of eLearning professionals who design digital, interactive learning content and implements technological strategy for thousands of online courses. Dr.. Srba has over twenty-eight years of experience in systems integration, information security, project management and education. Prior to joining APUS she served as a subject matter expert in project management and was a STEM Innovation Lead and online instructor in Computer Science and Engineering. In addition, Dr. Srba served as a Government Practice Lead and contract manager for over 18 years as a contractor for the Federal Government. She earned her Doctorate Degree in Education Leadership and Management from the University of Pennsylvania and her Master’s Degree in Distance Education Leadership and E-Learning Technology from the University of Maryland University College and an undergraduate degree in Management and Technology from University of Maryland. She also earned several certificates in project management, computer science, engineering, psychology and education.

Extended Abstract

This workshop provides you with relevant and actionable information on the Neuroscience of Learning and how to apply it in the classroom through design, pedagogy, technology and teaching. You will experience neuroscience learning techniques throughout the workshop and participate in hands-on activities to demonstrate real-life learning in the classroom. We will also bust the neuro-myths of neuroscience and show you why these myths are really myths.

You will come away from this workshop with a better understanding of the Neuroscience of Learning or Cognitive Psychology, how to apply this in your courses using pedagogical techniques and/or technology, and the importance of doing your own data collection to better serve your students and their learning journey.

Neuroscience and brain learning has allowed scientist to map the specific parts of the brain. Through the use of cutting-edge technology, you can view how neuro connections in the brain impact short and long term memory and learning. These scientific breakthroughs are driving a new series of degrees and certificate programs at most research universities. Using this research faculty, curriculum developers and instructional designers can use these scientific advancements to understand how certain technologies and learning pedagogy can tap into those neuron connections and stimuli to maximize learning.

The field of neuroscience investigates the structure and function of the brain and nervous system. Since anything that has an impact on the brain, will ultimately affect learning, neuroscience-informed education can be utilized for the development of effective instructional pedagogies to support student’s learning. Some of the main themes of neuroscientific research, focusing on cell differentiation and pruning, neurogenesis/neuroplasticity, and cognitive-emotional neurocircuitry, will be used to discuss the following themes: 1) neural maturation and neural plasticity across the entire life span, 2) social and emotional learning, 3) spaced learning and memory consolidation, 4) experiential, multimodal, sensory and kinesthetic learning, 5) the effects of the external and internal environment on attention, learning and memory 6) the effects of physiological exercise, sleep and nutrition on learning and memory.

Changing the brain to optimize learning occurs when the brain observes conditions which it is able to change in response to stimuli referred to as neuroplasticity and produce new neurons, (neurogenesis). Effective learning involves engagement of all parts of the brain. These regions are associated with memory, senses, and cognitive functioning.

Some recent studies have shown that the brain performs best when some stress is introduced in the learning task producing cortisol which can be measured in the bloodstream. Too much stress causes the brain to have less activity in the cortical areas where learning takes place. Creating just the right amount of stress for each individual person is the key and knowing what activities in the course will produce the right amount of stress is crucial for optimizing learning.  In this workshop, you will be introduced to various learning activities and tasks to recommend to students prior to taking a test, or performing a task.

Using the work of Dr. James Zull, in “The Art of Changing the Brain” (2002) and Stella Collins, Neuroscience for Learning and Development: How to Apply Neuroscience and Psychology for Improved Learning and Training (2012), the brain, and more specifically the cortex has important functions that can be matched with each stage of the learning cycle to enhance learning. The learning cycle consists of, concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract hypothesis and active testing. The learning cycle is based on the fact that learning experiences are initiated through concrete experience or experiential learning. We can use the map of the brain, previously authenticated and validated by scientist, to determine the methods and technology that best enhances learning. For example, the sensory cortex is the first to receive output from the outside world through the senses such as vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc. The sensory cortex aligns with the part of the learning cycle for concrete experiences from the outside world. The sensory cortex takes in the vision, audio/verbal, touch, smell or taste (Zull, 2002).

This workshop will also introduce you to the work of Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki, and their book, Understanding How We Learn, Using Learning Science (2018). You will experience live throughout the workshop, the techniques of spaced practice, retrieval practice, elaboration, interleaving, concrete examples, and coding practice. These are pedagogical tools you can use in your online classroom or blended learning program.

We will also emphasize the importance of collecting data from your students to validate their learning as well as validate the practices you are employing in your courses. We will talk about what to collect and how to interpret this data into actionable techniques that will further enhance student learning.

Lastly, we will discuss how to apply these techniques and pedagogy to your classroom using technology that can aid you in developing cost-effective courses that directly increase retention of adult learners. In addition, faculty, student advising, and student services individuals will be brought into the mix to learn how to apply these techniques to help students outside the classroom.

Come join us for 3-hours of myth-busting, engaging, hands-on activities that will make you understand the exciting field of Cognitive Psychology or the Neuroscience of Learning.