How does our brain ensure that we learn facts or skills? Remembering isolated facts is not enough to call it 'learning'. The facts or events that together form the learning material must not only be related to each other, but also integrated with the knowledge already stored in our brains. This merging allows not only new knowledge to be captured, but also new skills, so that the information or actions can be reproduced and even new information can be created. Something is considered real learning if the learning material is experienced as less complex and it leads to more automatisms. Because knowledge is stored throughout the brain, recalling knowledge primarily requires good cooperation and good timing between the different brain areas. Adolescents are hindered in this because communication between the brain areas is not yet optimal. The knowledge stored in the brain is made up of so-called "dispositional representations". These dispositions, these institutions, which form the basis of mental images, are largely formed by learning processes. Not all, because the innate knowledge that regulates the biological processes in the body is also stored in dispositional representations. Dispositional representations are therefore of great importance for learning. One acquires knowledge because the dispositional representations, the settings of the brain, are constantly being adapted, constantly changing. This is also called the adaptive plasticity of the brain. From an observation in the here and now or from a memory, the dispositional representations provide the impetus for forming representations. Imaginations are the most important component of our thoughts. In turn, the observations and memories change the dispositional representations. Brains make learning possible because they are able to change in response to changes in the environment. This also applies to changes in a cognitive environment.

Learning is the processing and recording of information. People learn on the one hand by gaining new experiences and on the other hand by repeating information. These new experiences must have sufficient emotional charge to pass the filter of working memory and then be stored in long-term memory. For adolescents, many events, especially social ones, have such an emotional impact that repetition is not necessary to store them in long-term memory. Whether adolescents learn at any given time and store information in memory for a long time depends on two factors: how involved they are with the information and how important they find the information. When it comes to school knowledge, there is often a lack of involvement and the importance is not always seen by adolescents. This is partly due to the knowledge itself, but to a much greater extent due to all the other, for adolescents, much more important information with which they are inundated. External guidance is therefore necessary to generate involvement in and the importance of school knowledge. Repetition then ensures that the knowledge is stored in memory.

Changes in the brain

Brains are composed of billions of neurons. These neurons connect to each other using synapses. An electrical current through the branch of a neuron initiates a chemical process. Molecules, so-called neurotransmitters, are released and transmit signals between neurons. There are trillions of these connections in a person's brain and everything they produce, learning, memory, emotion and feeling, reasoning, perception, communication, etc. is a result of them. A well-known theory of how learning works in the brain is the Hebb's model. The functioning of synapses, the open space between two neurons, is strengthened when the neurons are activated. These stimuli make the synapse stronger. When a large number of synapses are strengthened by identical stimuli, dispositional representations change, which in turn form new neural networks or alter existing networks. Neural networks store the perceptions we have of reality, both within ourselves and outside ourselves. Three principles in this process are very important for learning:

  • repetition of identical stimuli
  • mutual influence of new and existing networks
  • filtering incoming stimuli

The third principle is that of filtering incoming stimuli. The emotional system plays an important role in this. This provides the criteria by which information stimuli are or are not admitted to working memory. The synapse strengthening process is then initiated from the working memory. As long as we live, our brains are never at rest. Neurons randomly fire signals in preparation for a possible new action; even if they are not explicitly stimulated to take action by, for example, external stimuli. The brain has evolved into sentinels that enable an individual to deal with unexpected events. An important strategy for survival in an often unpredictable environment. Synapses can not only become stronger but also weaker. If the neurons in neural networks are no longer activated by stimuli, the functioning of the synapses weakens and eventually the network will disappear completely.