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What if Some of Our Learning Happens Outside the Brain?

By February 2, 2023No Comments

By Christian Talbot, President of MSA-CESS

There are certain moments in one’s education career that represent a “before” and “after.”

For me, one of those moments came when I learned these two things about working memory and cognitive load:

  1. There are limits to how much information a student can hold in their mind at a given moment (working memory).
  2. Different activities and resources change our capacity to use our working memory (cognitive load).

Once I learned the concepts, I realized that I needed to reconsider:

  • The curriculum (both quantity and quality);
  • Instruction (how I explained things); and
  • Assessment (how long-term memory affects the extent to which students can demonstrate understanding).

The writings of acclaimed author Annie Murphy Paul have helped me deepen my understanding not only of working memory and cognitive load, but of the science of learning more broadly.

The essential premise of Paul’s latest book, The Extended Mind, is that much of what we consider “thinking” takes place not inside the brain but rather in and with the aid of “extensions” of our minds—including our bodies, our environment, and our social connections.

Paul’s insights reveal there is a lot at stake with how we design school, from the arrangement of classrooms to the use of recess and physical education classes to when and how we promote team-based learning.

I’ll explore these ideas in upcoming blog posts, and I’m thrilled to share that Annie Murphy Paul has agreed to join me for a live interview and Q&A on Thursday, February 16. 

Please join us. You can register here.  

You’ll never think the same about how learning is happening in your school.

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