Breakthroughs in the Science of Learning
For centuries, humans have had numerous misconceptions and misunderstandings about how the organ works, grows and shapes our ability to learn.
While we still have a long way to go before we truly unravel all the mysteries the brain has to offer, scientists have been making some major breakthroughs that have gone a long way in explaining how the brain functions and how we use it to organize, recall and acquire new information. Below are a few of the biggest and most important of these breakthroughs in the science of learning. These breakthroughs into how the brain functions and learns need to be understood to enable us to develop effectively and efficiently.
1. More information doesn't mean more learning. The brain can tackle a lot of information but science now shows that it can be overloaded, referred to as "cognitive overload". This is imperative to understand, multi-tasking doesn't work from a learning perspective. We need to apply a "chunking" approach (learning small specific pieces at a time), especially when it comes to motor skill development. Golf is a motor skill.
2. The brain is a dynamic organ. This means the brain's wiring can change at any age, an "old" dog can learn new tricks. Yes, it slows as we get older but the brain can grow new neurons and adapt at any age.
3. Mistakes are an essential part of learning. We will make mistakes. Neuroscience research suggests that the best way to learn something new isn’t to focus on mistakes, but instead to concentrate on how to do a task correctly. A new pathway has to be built, which means abandoning the old one and letting go of that mistake.
4. Emotion influences the ability to learn. The ability to learn, retain, and use information isn’t just based on our raw IQ. Over the past few decades, it has become increasingly clear that how we feel — our overall emotional state — can have a major impact on how well we can learn new things. When under stress or anxiety, the brain blocks access to higher processing and stops forming new connections, making it difficult or impossible to learn.
5. Learning is social. The majority of people need a social environment to maximize their learning. Research has found that from infancy on, people learn better through social cues such as recalling and emulating the actions or words of another person, especially an instructor/coach.
For certain learning, especially where repetitions are required this holds very true.
6. Use it or Lose it principle. Regular stimulation has to be given to a pathway in the brain to sustain those cells, which is why lifelong learning is so important to brain health. Ben Hogan stated, taking a day off from practice felt like he took off a week.
7. Learning is a Biological Process. Learning takes time, movement pattern learning takes time and repetition. Studying hard, practicing hard for an hour doesn't yield learning, it's the first step of many on that journey. To learn a skill effectively, proper repetitions must be done. The brain doesn't discern or differentiate right or wrong, it will save whatever information it is given. "Myelin" (a protein and fatty substance in the body) is an insulating layer or sheath that forms around nerves, including those in the brain and spinal cord. This myelin sheath allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along those nerve cells. You are re-educating the nervous system. The biological process is the formation of this sheath, this takes anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks. To start the process of successful myelinization requires roughly 100 reps done properly and then repeated frequently so that we use it and don't lose it. Mastery, if you so desire, requires 3000-5000 repetitions.
So how do we practice now that we better understand the science of the brain?
We need to follow a very specific protocol. Unfortunately, this protocol hasn't been explained or applied often enough or at all and therefore practice doesn't yield positive progress.
1. Specific. Our focus needs to be specific, you can't work on your golf swing, you must work on a specific segment of your golf swing. Optimally, the segment that we work on should be based on kinesthetic prioritization. That means knowing where the root problem lies, there might be multiple issues but the primary challenge must be addressed, improved, and learned (engrained) before we can move on to something else. Without engraining (learning), the old habit will return because we never really changed anything. Remember, your brain doesn't discern right or wrong. Patience is required, effective repetitions must be performed. As in everything in life, we should only try to go as fast as our success dictates. We will not be able to do something new at full speed, the subconscious will kick in and perform the old habit, even though we're trying consciously to do the new. We start at whatever speed the conscious brain can handle, put in the reps and the subconscious brain will start to take over. Remember, "wax on wax off". No Amazon next day delivery here!
2. Measurable. How do we know that we're getting better? We need to have a way of measuring our development, our progress. We must monitor the movements, methods could include a mirror, video, a trained eye watching the process, or utilizing technical data (launch monitor, motion sensors, etc) if that's applicable.
3. Increasing difficulty. If you remain on the junior ski hill you will almost certainly remain a junior skier. We must challenge the brain to learn. How do we increase the difficulty? Depending on where you are in your development of the specific skill increasing difficulty could include any of the following;
Remember, we cannot progress faster than our success.