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The Learning Brain

An award-winning professor of psychology provides scientifically proven study techniques that will help you become a more adept learner.
The Learning Brain is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 73.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course on Learning This is the first course I have completely finished on The Great Courses Plus (formerly Wondrium). I listened to this course on the drives to and from work everyday and found it perfectly acceptable to listen to. The course covered the science behind the way our brains learn and what is happening when we learn different types of skills or what happens to the brain when placed in various circumstances. It was interesting to learn literally how we learn, and for me broke a lot of preconceived ideas I had on my own ability to learn. Some learning tips were spread throughout the course with a summary being re done in the last lecture. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand how the brain learns new information and skills.
Date published: 2024-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I found the course to be a wealth of information on how we learn. The instructor was very knowledgeable, professional and excellent in his presentation of the material. Only wish I had taken this course before starting college:)
Date published: 2023-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative! This was very in-depth, and I really enjoyed it! I started implementing some of what I was learning partway through, and definitely noticed a difference by the end of the lecture series. He is also fairly engaging, and not monotoned.
Date published: 2023-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Learning Brain Each lesson in “The Learning Brain” can stand on its own. Unlike many other courses where the subsequent lessons depend on the knowledge gained in the previous lectures. This made the presentation of each lesson much easier to understand. In 1986 when I taught my first computer classes my students were in awe of the capacity of the computer (this was in the days of the DOS operating system). I suggested to the students that their brain had a greater capacity than the computer. Professor Polk not only reaffirmed my suggestions but enlightened me as to how limited my knowledge of the brains capacity was. Professor Polk looks at each area of the brain and its specific relationship to learning, whether it be intellectual, skills or language. He relates in common language and reverts to technical terms only when necessary to explain the specific part of the brain that is involved. Several lessons Included the study techniques which will enhance the ability to learn and retain the information about any specific circumstance. .
Date published: 2022-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent content; streaming not so good I really enjoyed this course - when I could get the lectures to stream properly. This is the first time I've had difficulty with a course: repeated freezing, hard to 'rewind', jumping forward and playing at double speed on occasion (after resetting and restarting). Fortunately I persevered but it was irritating and time consuming. Still, I watched most of the lectures (I skipped about four of them as they weren't relevant to me and covered material I've done before). The lectures themselves were well constructed and informative. As a lifelong learner with a huge interest in how our brains work, I could understand the material and followed without difficulty. The Professor is personable and imparts the content with panache, and humor when appropriate. I'd like to make comments on one aspect of the course, but I won't do so here. I'll attach a note at some point.
Date published: 2022-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great professor. Presentation was clear and current.
Date published: 2022-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Learning Brain I have not yet seen all of the lectures but am very happy with the half I have seen so far. Very interesting topic and presentation.
Date published: 2022-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good so far Just started this course. It appears to be as good as his course "The Aging Brain" which was fantastic!
Date published: 2022-05-01
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Overview

How does the human brain make memories, learn a language, solve problems, and retain the state capitals? Identify and differentiate between several, major kinds of memories and what control we have over retaining and recalling them. Whether you or someone you know needs better study habits, struggles with learning a new skill, or just worries about memories fading with age, get the tools you need with The Learning Brain, designed to help anyone become a better student and a better learner.

About

Thad A. Polk

Every aspect of our mental life is controlled by the brain. So if we ever hope to understand the human mind, and how it's affected by aging, by disease, and by drugs, then we need to develop a better understanding of the brain and the neural mechanisms that underlie cognition.

INSTITUTION

University of Michigan

Thad A. Polk is the Samuel D. Epstein Collegiate Professor of Psychology and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. He earned an interdisciplinary PhD in Computer Science and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and received postdoctoral training in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. His teaching has been recognized by numerous awards, and he was named to The Princeton Review’s list of the Best 300 Professors in the United States.

By This Professor

Shocking Psychological Studies and the Lessons They Teach
854
Introduction to Cognitive Science
854
The Addictive Brain
854
The Aging Brain
854
The Learning Brain
854
The Learning Brain

Trailer

Learning 101

01: Learning 101

Beginning with a clear, working definition of the concept of “learning,” Professor Polk eases you into a course overview with simple examples of some of the topics that will be covered, including how scientists study learning, the neural basis of learning, and effective learning strategies.

31 min
What Amnesia Teaches Us about Learning

02: What Amnesia Teaches Us about Learning

In the 1950s, a Connecticut man named Henry Molaison became an unfortunate but invaluable source of information about how learning is implemented in the human brain after an experimental brain surgery led to profound amnesia. Studies of how he could (and couldn’t) learn—and what those studies uncover about how the rest of us learn—are detailed in this revealing lecture.

30 min
Conscious, Explicit Learning

03: Conscious, Explicit Learning

In this lecture, we discover that we can remember visual information better than verbal information, and that we remember vivid images better than ordinary ones. We also discover that how much you already know about a topic can have a profound influence on how easy it is to learn new information about it. These examples demonstrate conscious “explicit learning.” You may even learn how to memorize your grocery list better.

29 min
Episodic Memory and Eyewitness Testimony

04: Episodic Memory and Eyewitness Testimony

Any fan of courtroom drama has seen the powerful influence that the testimony of an eyewitness can have on legal proceedings. But how reliable is our memory for events that we personally witness? In this lecture, we learn that much of what we remember is often a plausible reconstruction of what might have happened, rather than an accurate memory of what actually happened. We also discover just how susceptible eyewitness memories are to distortion, and how being asked seemingly innocuous questions can lead to substantial errors in our memory. Married couples, enter at your own risk.

29 min
Semantic Memory

05: Semantic Memory

How do you know the distance to the Earth from the Sun? With no first-hand experience, we use “semantic memory”—impersonal, fact-based memory—for world knowledge. Semantic memory also includes our grouping or categorizing of information—but how do our brains do that? Professor Polk makes short, easy work of the subject.

32 min
The Neural Basis of Explicit Learning

06: The Neural Basis of Explicit Learning

Take a fantastic voyage into your brain to uncover the physical mechanisms involved in forming explicit memories. The voyage begins in the hippocampus, the seahorse-shaped structure in each temporal lobe, where explicit learning begins. It continues out to the cerebral cortex—the grey matter on the outside of the brain—where memories eventually become consolidated and integrated with other memories.

31 min
Strategies for Effective Explicit Learning

07: Strategies for Effective Explicit Learning

Set your highlighters and pens down and stop re-reading your material! These are actually two of the least-effective study techniques. Professor Polk explains why these old techniques don’t really work and offers four different, and more efficient, approaches to studying, which have been scientifically demonstrated to work more effectively.

32 min
Controversies in Explicit Learning Research

08: Controversies in Explicit Learning Research

To wrap up the course’s section on conscious, explicit learning, Professor Polk delivers an enticing “myth-busting” talk about controversial topics in the field. Do different students have different learning styles and, if so, should we tailor our teaching methods to match the learning styles of individual students? Can playing Mozart increase your baby’s intelligence? Do people repress traumatic memories and can such repressed memories later re-emerge? Professor Polk cuts through the hype and lays out the actual scientific findings related to each of these controversies.

31 min
 Unconscious, Implicit Learning

09: Unconscious, Implicit Learning

In this lecture, The Learning Brain switches gears from explicit to implicit learning, that is, learning that is unconscious and hard to verbalize. Discover non-associative learning, like learning to ignore a fan blowing in a room, as well as associative learning, such as conditioning, through which positive and negative reinforcement can shape behaviors over time.

32 min
The Psychology of Skill Learning

10: The Psychology of Skill Learning

Compare the first time you tried to tie your shoes to your present-day, shoelace-tying mastery. How did you come such a long way? Practice alone doesn’t begin to cover the intricate process of your brain learning a skill. See which stages are involved in acquiring skill-based knowledge and how you put them all together, with this insightful discussion.

31 min
Language Acquisition

11: Language Acquisition

Learning a new language is labor-intensive and complicated, so how do toddlers do it so easily? This lecture details how our brains progress from single-word associations to forming full, original sentences, as well as how babies learn to overcome obstacles like learning irregular past-tense verb forms (look/looked versus run/ran, for example).

35 min
The Neural Basis of Implicit Learning

12: The Neural Basis of Implicit Learning

Turn again to the neural components of learning to better understand how unconscious, implicit learning occurs in your brain. You actually have more connections between the neurons in your brain than there are stars in our galaxy, and learning involves strengthening and weakening these connections in very specific ways. Explore how your brain does so, how it learns to predict rewards, and the role that dopamine plays in the learning process.

31 min
Strategies for Effective Skill Learning

13: Strategies for Effective Skill Learning

Beginning the second half of this course, we return to more practical applications of learning science. Care to step up your tennis, golf, or typing game? This series of sometimes counterintuitive, yet wildly effective, tips and tricks will surprise you. As always, proven studies and examples abound.

30 min
Learning Bad Habits: Addiction

14: Learning Bad Habits: Addiction

How can learning go wrong? Using the knowledge you’ve been taught so far, you can unmask the dark side of unconscious associations and reward-seeking behavior: addictions to drugs and alcohol. Professor Polk delves into the psychological, chemical, and neural mechanisms underlying addiction to help understand this serious and delicate subject.

29 min
Introduction to Working Memory

15: Introduction to Working Memory

Begin with an overview of working (or short-term) memory, which is vital to rational thought. This lecture introduces you to the idea of working memory and discusses one of the most important mechanisms involved, the “phonological loop,” which we use to store language sounds like words for brief periods of time.

34 min
Components of Working Memory

16: Components of Working Memory

Several important components of working memory are covered here: the visuospatial sketchpad, which retains images from both recent perception and from long-term memory; the central executive, which decides which cognitive functions to perform and when to perform them; and the episodic buffer, which links information from other working memory components into integrated wholes.

30 min
 The Neural Basis of Working Memory

17: The Neural Basis of Working Memory

Diving back into the brain itself, this lecture explores the neuroscience behind working memory in much the same way earlier lectures examined explicit memory and implicit memory. Are different parts of the brain responsible for storing visual information versus verbal information in working memory? Prepare for an illuminating ride.

33 min
Training Your Working Memory

18: Training Your Working Memory

Psychological elements of working memory? Check. Neurological elements? Check. Next, we learn about the controversial topic of improving your working memory. Some scientists believe that training your working memory can improve your overall intelligence and reduce ADHD symptoms; others disagree. Both sides of these widely debated controversies are discussed.

32 min
How Motivation Affects Learning

19: How Motivation Affects Learning

Enjoy this eye-opening discussion about our drive—or lack thereof— to learn, and the enormous impact our motivation can have. Our personal interest in a subject, our belief in our own ability to learn it, and several other factors profoundly impact what we retain about that subject. Improve your learning ability today with this practical lecture.

30 min
How Stress and Emotion Affect Learning

20: How Stress and Emotion Affect Learning

Ask almost anyone where they were when they heard about major events like the 9/11 attacks or the Challenger explosion and they remember immediately. Why, psychologically, do those memories remain so vivid? And do short, quick moments of stress versus chronic stress affect our memories differently? How? These answers and more await you.

31 min
How Sleep Affects Learning

21: How Sleep Affects Learning

If you think “getting a good night’s rest” is the only way that sleep affects learning, think again. Our brain is often just as active during sleep as it is while we’re awake, and what happens at a neural level during sleep has a profound impact on what we remember, and what we forget. Furthermore, different stages of sleep influence different kinds of learning and memory, and that’s just the beginning.

33 min
How Aging Affects Learning

22: How Aging Affects Learning

Here’s another fascinating surprise: Aging does not inevitably lead to learning and memory problems. In fact, there are substantial differences in how aging affects different cognitive functions and in how it affects different people. Fortunately, Professor Polk demonstrates several proven—and enjoyable—methods of maintaining and even improving our brains as we get older.

32 min
Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities

23: Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities

In this, the fifth and final lecture on factors that influence learning and memory, several common learning disabilities are defined and explored. Learn about dyslexia, the most common learning disability, including its symptoms, the neural mechanisms that underlie it, and how difficulty in recognizing and manipulating phonemes—the set of basic sounds that get combined to form words—plays a large role.

30 min
Optimizing Your Learning

24: Optimizing Your Learning

Professor Polk wraps things up by discussing five strategies that can make you a better learner. These strategies draw on and integrate some of the key themes that have appeared throughout the rest of this Great Course. And, putting them into practice in your own life can help you to become the best learner you can be.

35 min