Week 12 Blog: What is brain-based learning and how can it inform problem based learning and differentiation?


Brain-based learning is an area of research on how the brain learns information. It can be summarized as “the research on how the brain works and its connections to learning theory” (Palombo-Weiss, 2000). Our brains are amazing networks of connections. “We process all incoming information through networks, and any information already stored influences how and what we learn” (Palombo-Weiss, 2000). “Brain-based learning stresses the importance of patterning, that is, the fact that the brain does not easily learn things that are not logical or have no meaning” (Caine & Caine). Problem-based learning and differentiation allow more students to be able to make those meaningful connections in their brains.

Problem based learning focuses on giving students a problem that they must solve individually or in groups (Woei, Jonassen, & Liu). The brain needs variation in instructional style and problem-based learning is one of those variations. An example of this is that attention devices only work for a certain amount of time and then the brain becomes desensitized and you have to try something new (Jensen, 2005). Problem based learning also allows students to make sense of material and create their own meaning and find their own patterns in learning.

Brain-based learning can also inform differentiation in education. The brain needs different ways of learning the same information to create meaning. Teachers must find ways to help their students see the meaning of new information and use all available resources to create complex learning environments (Caine & Caine).

Brain-based learning is all about helping students create meaning in material. It moves away from traditional ways of teaching like lecturing and then following with a paper and pencil exam. Both problem-based learning and differentiation go hand in hand with the theories of brain-based learning.


Hung, Woei, Jonassen, David H., and Liu, Rude “Problem-Based Learning”. Web 9 Apr.

  1. <http://www.aect.org/edtech/edition3/er5849x_c038.fm.pdf&gt;

Nummela Caine, Renate, and Geoffrey Caine. “Membership.” Educational

Leadership:Self-Renewing Schools:Reinventing Schools Through Brain-Based

Learning. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.



Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2nd Edition). Alexandria, VA, USA:

Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2005.

ProQuest ebrary. Web. 5 April 2015. Retreived

Palombo Weiss, Ruth. “Brain-Based Learning: The Wave of the Brain.” Training and

Development (2000): 20-24. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.



4 responses »

  1. “The brain needs variation in instructional style and problem-based learning is one of those variations” I am glad you brought up this fact. Before I read this week’s reading I didn’t realize this. I thought I was doing something wrong because I was having to consistently change things up to keep my students’ attentions. What worked one day didn’t always work the next. Now I understand its normal and it’s because of how the brain works.

  2. It’s amazing to think that with all the research about brain-based learning, it still doesn’t even cover a fraction of what our brains can do. It’s inspiring and humbling to realize that brains are constantly changing; when we repeatedly use the same methods to teach, we aren’t actually supporting the brain to grown and change in positive and meaningful ways. I agree that the variation and context that differentiation and PBL provide for students is necessary and is proven to be appropriate and effective. Since teaching is essentially about guiding students to build good habits of the mind that enables them to succeed in life (work, relationships, personal growth, etc.), we need to use the growing body of research to inform how we go about our business of teaching.

  3. You wrote: “Both problem-based learning and differentiation go hand in hand with the theories of brain-based learning.”

    I agree with this statement. I also found it interesting in this week’s reading about allowing students time in between learning to absorb the new information. Many teachers think they have to jam a bunch of information into a day, but it’s equally important to take breaks and allow students to reflect on their learning.

  4. I’m with you on this one, Megan: “The brain needs different ways of learning the same information to create meaning.” When I work with teachers (especially early-career teachers who still hope that “teaching” the content once will result in lasting learning for all students), we talk a lot about FREQUENT interactions with content in different ways: Preview the content long before it is going to be taught in depth, allow students to interact with it in tons of different ways over time, review, review, review by continuing to bring the content back in later activities and lessons, etc. If it’s something you want students to really remember, providing exposure in a variety of ways over time is essential. Utilizing a number of different instructional strategies that appeal to different learning styles helps engage learners because they will discover the content in new ways…and make better sense of it each time. It was great to read Jensen’s thoughts on all of this last week, as he provided so many different approaches and ideas for practical application of this in the classroom. Good stuff!

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