Optimising The Learning Process – Preventing Learning Disorders:
A Brief Overview of Advances in Brain Research
1. Brief analysis of learning in a school context
We assume that we can test, by means of clear and unambiguous criteria, whether a child is ready for school, whether he can cope with the demands of school, whether his thought processes are congruent with the expectations which he will encounter there. In an exercise in shape recognition and reproduction, the child is asked to reproduce the figure below.
When considering the following three answers, conventional wisdom suggests that only Child 2 has understood and solved the task correctly and is therefore ready for school.
However, if we were to ask the children how they came to make these drawings, Child 1 might well say, “An E doesn’t have a tail like that behind it” and Child 3 might say, “The broom sweeps much better if it has more bristles”.
The obvious question to ask here is just what kind of intelligence do schools want to see, and what kinds of intelligence are they dismissive of; what kinds of thought processes have no place in a school context. To put it provocatively, schools prefer unconsidered, mechanical reproduction. Creative thinking and proactive thinking within a system, suggesting improvements, are deemed indicative of developmental deficiencies.
This is an appropriate point to lay aside conventional attitudes and to rethink one’s point of view in an interdisciplinary exchange in order to refocus one’s techniques and update one’s professional skills.
2. The measurement technique and communication processes in the brain
The Institut für Kommunikation und Gehirnforschung in Stuttgart uses an EEG spectroanalytical measurement method. With the aid of FFT (Fast Fourier Transformation), the frequencies that are customarily measured for medical purposes (fig. 1) are split into their constituent components and plotted in the form of spectra (fig. 2).
Fig. 1: Representation of an EEG, e.g. for medical purposes
L = left hemisphere, R = right hemisphere of the brain
Fig. 2: EEG spectral analysis
L = left hemisphere, R = right hemisphere, frequencies in Hz
These graphs not only show differing levels of brain activity, but also the ranges of frequencies at which activity takes place. Beta frequencies indicate alertness and highly concentrated attention to external stimuli, while alpha frequencies indicate relaxed, concentrated, receptive, inwardly-oriented states, and theta frequencies indicate that the person is in a meditative state, engaged in relaxed visualisation (creating mental images). With this measurement technique, delta frequencies take on a new significance. Delta activity is not only present during sleep, but also during all communicative, interpersonal interaction of a non-verbal nature. To facilitate interpretation, a long measurement period can be represented in the form of a chronospectrogram.(fig.3).
Fig. 3: Chronospectrogram of EEG spectroanalytical measurement of approx. 11 minutes
Frequencies in Hz. L = left hemisphere, R = right hemisphere. Time axis on left.
Here, as in the spectroanalysis, the activities of both hemispheres are depicted separately, and enable a broad range of analyses and interpretations. Left-hemisphere activity signifies serial information processing, and right-hemisphere activity signifies concurrent, parallel processing of a whole range of impressions.
At the Stuttgart Institut für Kommunikation und Gehirnforschung, measurements were performed on thousands of school children of different ages and from various types of schools. From this extensive collection of data about learning, learning disorders, conditions and prerequisites for successful learning, a number of measurement diagrams will be described here by way of providing typical examples.
Extreme stress is dissipated by playing a CD recorded by the institute. In the chronospectrogram, the resulting reduction in stress is clearly visible after about seven minutes (time axis on the left).
Fig. 4: Chronospectrogram with stress dissipation
Laterality problems with left-hemisphere dominance
Fig. 5: Chronospectrogram with left-hemisphere dominance
This chronospectrogram clearly shows the more pronounced activity of the left hemisphere.
Disturbance due to alternating current
In this EEG lead, a standard lamp with dimmer caused a disturbance in the right hemisphere due to alternating current. When this source of disturbance was switched off (after 2 minutes, 11 seconds), brain activity returned to normal.
Blockage in the left hemisphere
At primary school a left-handed girl was taught to write with her right hand. The resulting laterality problems are clearly visible in the figure above (fig. 7). The blocked activity in the left hemisphere only appeared when writing, and ultimately led to the child refusing to perform writing tasks, a very understandable reaction.
3. Causes of learning disorders
Laterality problems are only one of the possible causes of learning disorders. The range of causes which can be detected through the analysis of certain measurements is much broader, and enables specific analysis to be made and training programs to be developed.
The causes shown in this Figure are limited to those which most commonly apply to school learning. It is important for teachers to recognise and be aware of these causes. In addition, this classification enables teaching methods to be systemised and structured, to allow a teacher’s resources to be employed in a professional and purposeful manner.
In order to pass on this knowledge and associated methods of systemisation and structuring, it is necessary to allow time for training and collaboration. Laterality problems will be described here to illustrate the methodology used by the institute.
Learning theories related to the right and left hemispheres
The right hemisphere of the brain governs the left side of the body, the left hemisphere controls the functions of the right side of the body. The corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres and combines the information of the right and left hemisphere. The two hemispheres appear symmetrical, but the information they contain is quite different. In a normal right-handed person, the left hemisphere processes information serially, i.e. one piece of information at a time, and keeps to a specific order, i.e. works sequentially and thus more slowly. The right hemisphere processes information in parallel. It can register complex images and process multiple information concurrently. The right hemisphere can therefore process more information in complex images than the left hemisphere in the same time.
School-type learning almost exclusively promotes the abilities of the left hemisphere. The predominance of serial methods of processing information restricts the development of talents associated with the right hemisphere, such as creativity and the ability to take in complex information. Although these facts are taken into account to some degree by the latest educational theories, and although methods which promote more balanced kinds of learning are now being advocated, it is not enough to simply tip the scales the other way to encourage right-hemisphere activities and thus increase creative potential. Only synchronous co-operation between the two hemispheres can bring about real change and lead to the generation of completely new thought processes. The right hemisphere is capable of digesting a large amount of information in parallel, and in an emotional, uncoordinated, unbridled manner. Getting the right hemisphere to collaborate with the left hemisphere – with its ability to structure, analyse, select and combine – will open up huge potential for new, previously unimaginable thought processes. All human beings have the potential to access abilities and states of consciousness associated with both the right and the left hemisphere. Active, effective learning requires the participation of both the left and the right hemisphere. All learning methods should therefore be structured to allow the participation of both hemispheres. Synchronisation between the two hemispheres, which is necessary for further intellectual and creative growth, depends on an adequate degree of co-ordination.
There are possibilities for parents of small children to prevent laterality disorders from developing. Crawling for example promotes co-operation between the two hemispheres of the brain via the corpus callosum, and important cross-over patterns are developed which are necessary for more advanced thought processes later in life. Old-fashioned children’s games help practise skills which have become as neglected as the games themselves.
In school classrooms, children with laterality problems should sit in the middle. Other pupils should regularly change seats to prevent laterality problems from arising. If a child sits to one side of the classroom for too long, the ear or eye on one side constantly receives information one millisecond earlier than the ear or eye on the other side. This can quite unintentionally give rise to learning difficulties.
In school lessons, various thought processes can be fostered by using different methods to handle tasks, for instance top-down and bottom-up methods. A great deal of attention should be paid to thinking strategies and learning techniques, and these should be practised with the children. The effectiveness of various teaching methods and their impact on hemispheric processes should be examined and tested, in order to avoid putting whole groups of pupils at a disadvantage by a one-sided selection of methods.
With regard to improving learning in schools, the teacher’s approach, and how he or she communicates with the children, is highly significant. The more positive the teacher’s relationship with the children, the better are the conditions for learning. These factors and relationships can now be demonstrated and measured. They no longer belong to the realm of speculation, but represent a central factor in teachers’ efforts to optimise their didactic personality, style and methods.
Equally important for the teacher is the intelligent, targeted use of learning techniques to optimise the learning process. For example, reading methods have been compared to the results recorded for, and methods employed by, a world-champion speed reader, to provide insight into a suitable repertoire of techniques.
The individual neuroactive CD
Basis for producing an individual neuroactive CD is the EEG spectroanalysis measurement at the institute. This tailor-made CD should be listened to by the client every day while learning and performing suitable exercises, in order to overcome his or her learning difficulty, and start to enjoy learning again. It is important that the music is listened to using headphones, and combined with movement and exercises, to ensure it is fully effective.
The CDs do not contain subliminal messages. They comprise a special selection of pieces of music, supplemented by the particular frequencies required by the client.
The Institute’s activities and departments
Research into learning processes is only one of the Institute’s wide range of activities. EEG spectroanalytical measurements are now used in various research projects. The institute is currently involved in the following:
Research related to learning processes
- Lectures to teaching professionals
- Holding day-long learning projects in schools
- Methods for optimising learning processes
- Aids for the treatment of people with cerebral damage
- Co-operation with clinics, therapists and carers improving the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs
- Techniques for the formation of new neural pathways
- Training of therapists
- Analysis and study of special talents and abilities
- Testing the effectiveness of various therapeutical techniques
- Evaluation of medical treatments
- Examination of communication phenomena and different training methods e.g. in the management sector
- Comparative research into learning behaviour in different types of schools
- Research and development of therapeutic methods and equipment
- Research and refinement of measurement techniques