Well, I'm back on my academic soapbox again, and this issue, in particular, is one close to my academic heart. Something happened -- subtly shifted -- in the 1960's with the advent of computing and the widespread application of statistics as a way to "prove" that something is valid ("true"). Stress within academic institutions, especially "higher" learning institutions, began shifting towards acquiring a working memory of data (raw numbers) and information (numbers with attached units, e.g. degrees Centigrade) -- "collecting" data and information, first in the brain's long term memory, and, where simply too voluminous, in one's computer system, all ordered in a sort of "scramble" or "statistical" hierarchy. This heralded in what I call the Age of Traumatic Learning, where traumatic learning is all about focusing learner's attention on what they need to learn and stressing them such that their "eidetic" memory is "turned on." At the time, no one really knew what that meant; now we know that, neurobiologically speaking, it means turning on the learner's autonomic "Fight or Flight" system. The "problems" with this approach are only now becoming evident: learner "overload" (when the acute stress of learning becomes chronic), teacher frustration (it's inhuman to deny learners choices about what they should learn), too much data/information lacking any meaning (learners become information junkies but are unable to successfully apply what they've learned to new situations). The contemporary answer: more focused teaching; more stringent testing, neither of which actually solves the problem but only make it worse. The situation is so huge that the National Academy of Science has been prompted to call for educational approaches that result in learners who can apply what they learn to new situations. But how to do this?

In 2005, I wrote UNLOCK THE GENIUS WITHIN (Rowman and Littlefield) to specifically unravel the Gordian knot from a neurobiological point of view. The kind of learning I strongly commend (and try constantly to apply), I call Transformative Learning (to distinguish it from Traumatic Learning). In this approach, knowledge (knowing how to apply what one learns to new situations) and wisdom (knowing when to apply it without causing harm) are the goals, and data/information storage is relegated more and more to external storage devices like computers. Instead to turning on the "Fight or Flight" autonomic nervous system (technically the sympathetic nervous system), I do everything I can to turn it off and allow the "Rest, Relax, Reflect" autonomic learning system (technically the parasympathetic nervous system). This means I relinquish my classical "teacher" role and become more a "mentor," no longer attempting to focus learners attention on what I want them to learn, but instead demonstrating for them how, when in "transformative learning mode" I resolve the myriad paradoxes presented to curious learners. If you're interested in this, I recommend my UNLOCK THE GENIUS WITHIN book, and the Neurobiological Learning Society (http://neurobiologicallearningsociety.yolasite.com) with all their resources.

In a "teacher" sense, what is different is that the "course description" becomes a "learning contract" spelling out the area of exploration in the broadest sense, and curriculum and lesson plans are tossed out the window in favor of "learning resources" (as many different ways of looking at a a subtopic within the limits of the learning contract as possible. In short, no more teaching! From the "learners" point-of-view, curiosity is unleashed, the neurobiologically powerful "discovery" ("popping up phenomenon) is invoked and virtually everything learned is "meaningful." That is, what is acquired rather than data and information is meaningful associations. These associations allow one to apply what is discovered to new situations (knowledge), and with discussion, when to appropriately apply them (wisdom).

Even the learning process feels different. Instead of "memorization" the learner is free to follow his/her curiosity and discover new meaning in the world outside and inside. Once a traumatic learner masters the process of traumatic learning, it "gets easier" in that one learns how to manipulate the system to one's own best advantage. Even after a transformative learning has mastered the transformative learning process, the pre-discovery period still feels rough and irritating. The way to manipulate tranformative learning is to be kind with oneself during the pre-discovery period and trust that it will result in discovery (neurobiologically speaking, that's how we're wired).

If I can be permitted to make one bold assertion at this point, it is that until educators learn more about the neurobiology of learning and move from traumatic to transformative learning, little can be done to move our educational system to the level recommended by the National Academy of Science. And the way to do this is to begin a transformative journey into how brains and bodies actually learn.