How does our brain learn new information?

This is a question that has always fascinated me as a Speech Language Pathologist. I am  constantly faced with the challenge of helping a client learn something new.

Here is a wonderful explanation from an article in the Scientific American magazine.

So, as a family member of someone who has a speech and language problem or as a client yourself, you might wonder why is this information important?

Quite simply because the goal of any therapy is to learn specific skills and then learn to use those skills in everyday life! Those specific skills could include learning how to move your mouth a particular way to make a sound. Or, perhaps trying to remember that you need to use the "s" sound when you chose to speak about things in plural sometimes. (e.g. one dog, two dogs).

This brings us to an important concept about new learning. And that is the concept of "Association".



Association


To quote from the article " To understand this concept, first imagine trying to remember the name of a new colleague, a tall, bearded man we’ll call Joe.  Your brain needs to form an association between a complex visual image and a name, which are encoded by different groups of neurons in various parts of your brain. Every time you are introduced to Joe, these sets of neurons fire simultaneously, strengthening the synaptic pathway that connects them. Next time you spot a tall, bearded man coming down the corridor, you will easily greet Joe because the visual image will be strongly linked with his name."

It is quite important to understand what might help someone learning to make a new sound or someone else learning to overcome a stuttering block make those associations. Once the associations are made, with a certain amount of practice, the new information can be saved in the brain's memory in a way so that it can be used later on.
How they might connect that new bit of information to something they already knew to begin with will determine how they organize it in their brain.

The best way a caregiver or family member of a client can help make those associations is by understanding what the client likes, what "lights" them up in terms of interests and activities. 
 
Associations are critical to new learning. And these associations are often the ones best made by the learner himself. And that right there is part of the "success formula" in  achieving any goals that might be set in therapy! 


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