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We Learn Better by Doing

23 November 2017

If you learn best by doing, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a University of Chicago study, hands on experiences benefits all students a lot more than previously thought.

According to the research, which was published in Psychological Science, brainscans discovered that hands on learning activates the sensor and motor-related parts of the brain.

Director Prof. Sian Beilock, who is also the author of the books ‘Choke’ and How the Body Knows Its Mind, the parts of the brain that are activated when we physically do something are again activated just by thinking about them.

“In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better. Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about.

“We need to rethink how we are teaching math and science because our actions matter for how and what we learn,” Professor Beilock said.

The finding is consistent with research presented in Professor Beilock’s book ‘How the Body Knows its Mind’, in which she contends that the mind and body are not separate but are inextricably intertwined to the extent that sometimes the body tells the mind what to do.

For example, forcing a smile or a laugh can change mood. “Our body has a direct line to our mind, telling us how to feel.” 

Professor Beilock debunks the comparison of the human brain to a computer because this suggests that the body and physical experiences are not relevant, when in fact our performance and learning is optimum when our mind and body work together, such as in a practical work learning situation.

Research also shows a direct link among perception, cognition and physical experience. For example, babies who learn to walk before they crawl may experience delays reaching cognitive milestones (associated with learning caution).

Things like using your fingers when learning arithmetic, printing and speaking the alphabet, all demonstrate the power of doing while learning. The truth, it would appear, has always been there – we all have to learn to crawl before we can walk.