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Neuroscience a teaching tool for learning

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Advances in neuroscience are challenging the very foundations of the traditional education system, says Enterprize Tasmania chief executive Gary McDarby.

In a keynote presentation to Education Transforms 2017 in Hobart, Dr McDarby said neuroscience had provided new insights into how people learn.

“Our ability to monitor and understand brain function has grown considerably over the last few decades as advances in real-time imaging technology have revealed new insights into how the brain works,” he said.

“Our minds are fundamentally embodied and relational. Our brains, bodies and relationships are integrated and change in response to our experiences.

“This has profound implications for the way we learn, especially in the early years, but also for lifelong learning.”

Dr McDarby is a technology consultant with a background in electronic engineering and neuroscience. He spent four years as Principal Investigator with the MindGames group in MIT Media Lab Europe.

He was a founding director of Camara Education – an organisation that distributes computers in the developing world – and Techspace, a technology-driven initiative to enable and empower youth groups using refurbished technology, in his homeland of Ireland.

His latest project, Enterprize, is a pair of innovation hubs in Hobart and Launceston designed to support entrepreneurial endeavour, specifically focused around technology.

Dr McDarby said neuroscience had revealed human emotions and social interactions were intrinsic in our learning, and also that it was critical for the brain to have time for reflection rather than being overloaded with knowledge.

“These insights suggest different approaches to learning and education that challenge the way our current system operates,” he said.

Dr McDarby said the current education system was still based heavily on the Victorian model, in which everyone was taught to read and write the same way and was measured on the same skills.

This translated to the workplace, where in the past people could use those same skills in long careers working for the same company.

But rapid changes in technology now required flexible, adaptable skills.

“People now have to re-define themselves every couple of years,” he said.

“The greatest skill is the skill to learn and to love learning. We need to create a framework for outcomes, not a framework for measurement.”

Dr McDarby said there was a great opportunity in Tasmania, because of its size and the reach of the University of Tasmania, to take a different path with learning that moved away from structures and produced “confident, innovative people”.

His vision for the future was learning centres focused on imagination, in which children used the amazing technology now available to explore areas they enjoyed, working both one-on-one with mentors and in groups with their peers.

“We have amazing technical tools at our disposal which can be used to create environments in which people are learning because they are interested,” he said.

“There are some extraordinary insights into learning approaches when you watch kids using these new tools in new and novel ways.”

ET 17 is the second international symposium of the Peter Underwood Centre and brings together key stakeholders to share and reflect on insights about the collective mission to raise aspirations for educational attainment.

Launched in February 2015, the Peter Underwood Centre is a partnership between the University of Tasmania, and the Tasmanian Government in association with the Office of the Governor of Tasmania.

Source: UTAS

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