The Neuroscience of Learning A Mind, Brain, and Education Course for Educators

The Neuroscience of Learning: A Mind, Brain, and Education Course for Educators

By: Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa*

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*Editor’s note: We put Tracey in the masthead, but our staff wrote the article.

Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa has an online Harvard course called The Neuroscience of Learning: An Introduction to Mind, Brain, Health, and Education.

Unlike other Harvard courses in their degree programs, the course is pretty much open to anyone with a decent level of education and English proficiency, and the course can be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit or non-credit, with different levels of requirements for each category.

from zoom.us

Most people think of online classes as being like YouTube with homework, and many are. But Tracey has taken great pains to make the course interactive, even more interactive than a face-to-face class can be. While there are videos to watch and papers to read before class, lecturing in the live class itself is limited. Time is given for discussion, either as a whole class (in Zoom, the platform she uses, everyone is visible), in breakout groups, or through messaging. The homework assignments are interactive as well, since responding to a minimum of two posts per week is a requirement.

About five people involved in the Think Tanks or BRAIN SIG have joined the course as students or Teaching Fellows, including Curtis Kelly. They all think that despite the workload, the course is about as good an online course can get. You can read a Think Tank article, from some of these participants, An Online Course we Recommend Because it Changed Our Lives in this issue. Tracey’s class uses Canvas Network for the assignments, quizzes, paper submission, etc., and Zoom Video Conferencing for live classes. Tracey herself talks about good online course design in this podcast, Taking Your Class Online.

Now let’s look at some information from the course syllabus, available at this link.

Course Description

This course provides an overview of the neuroscience of learning through mind, brain, health, and education science (MBHE), or the intersection of psychology, cognitive neuroscience, health, and education. Fundamental biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors are introduced with an emphasis on critical functions related to learning and achievement across settings, age groups, and concepts such as epigenetics, sensitive periods, and neuroplasticity. In addition, factors that facilitate and roadblocks that inhibit optimization of learning are explored as we discuss key cognitive constructs (language, attention, memory, executive functions, affect/emotions), with special attention on comparative cultural influences on neurocognitive processes. These studies are directly applied by each student in a semester research project conducted in an area of each student's personal interest.

The classes themselves include weekly topics like Plasticity & Epigenetics, Neurodevelopment, Theories of Learning, Attention, and Memory.

You can sign up for the course here.

Other Harvard courses on the brain or education, some free.

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