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Head’s blog

How to change your brain: The challenge of learning in an age of neuroscience

“If you understand just a little bit of some of the basics about how your brain works, you can learn more easily and be less frustrated.”
– Dr. Barbara Oakley

Many of us would welcome the chance to learn more effectively, to improve our memory, to think more creatively, to make sense of those intellectual challenges that have foxed us over the years. It is not surprising, then, to learn that this is the subject of the most popular online course in the world.

This free course or MOOC (massive open online course) is offered via Coursera-UC San Diego and has over 1.6 million registered students. Professors Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski take you through a simple understanding of how the brain works, based on up to date neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Based on this understanding they have come up with simple techniques which help you to change your thinking habits and develop a mastery in subjects you might have thought beyond you.

And if you have a problem to solve that simply won’t move forward, they suggest a neat trick – try drifting off to sleep. Barbara describes the technique used by both the artist Dali and the inventor, Thomas Edison, who deliberately shifted from deep concentration to a more diffused thinking style when looking for creative inspiration. Dali would relax into a chair playing with a set of keys; at the point when he about to drift off to sleep the keys would slip out of his hand, wake him with a start, and he would rush back to the canvas, full of fresh ideas. ( for more of Barbara, tune in to the TEDxOakland university youtube video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O96fE1E-rf8

Barbara Oakley was one of a series of fascinating guest speakers at the HMC Conference held this week in Belfast attended by headteachers from the independent sector. From neuroscience to mediation, from social media to innovations in schools, there was a range of stimulating presentations. I have certainly returned to school refreshed, re-energized and full of fresh ideas.