Brain-based learning

Educational principles are often based on empirical scientific research in which students learn through various types of interactions. The efficiency of the different forms depend on the individual (learning styles) and the type of interaction.

In brain learning, we look at the science of physiological processes in our brain and from this we distill principles that increase learning motivation and learning efficiency.

Neurocognitive science

The foundation of brain learning lies in neurocognitive science. This science studies the human brain during and after performing specific tasks and actions. I won’t dive too deep into the physiology of dendrites, axons and synapses, but it boils down to this:

The brain consists of gray mass and white mass, the gray mass mainly consists of nerve cells with short axons and long axons. White mass consists exclusively of long axons that transmit impulses to other nerve cells via a synapse (connection between nerve cells). Synapses transmit impulses from one nerve cell to another via neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals (e.g. serotonin, nor-adrenaline and dopamine) that are released by one dendrite and absorbed by the dendrite of the other nerve cell. Senses, memories, images and thoughts create impulses that find their way through the network of the nervous system.

During learning, the processes mentioned above also take place. The brain is plastic, which means it adapts to its usage (use it or lose it). Suppose certain cells and synapses are widely used, then the brain will over time create more connections and synapses between those nerve cells. Brain learning is based on a number of principles, which ensure that synapses are optimally stimulated and will increase in number. Synapses play a role in remembering, rehearsing and capturing knowledge.

The six principles of brain learning

Brain learning is characterized by six principles that stimulate synapses:

  1. Right inner state
  2. Repetition
  3. Creation instead of consumption
  4. Outcome and context orientation
  5. Sensory rich
  6. Builds on the existing foundations

Brain learning and e-learning

Now, if we apply the six principles of brain learning on e-learning, we get the following results:

Right inner state

E-Learning can be done regardless of time and place. Whenever you have a nice day, when you are curious about the invitation, or simply when you feel you’re ready. Learning on Tuesday afternoon at 13:00 because the lesson is scheduled at that time is not the best way to learn for all of us. The amount of neurotransmitters in the brain largely determine our state of mind (emotions).

Arousing emotions can make the learner remember details better. Consider, for example, that most people still know where they were and what they did when they heard what happened to the Twin Towers. Stimulating concentration leads to better learning efficiency.


Memo training™ is an app that stimulates retention of existing knowledge or of new subjects. The student can determine the frequency and how many questions he receives about the subject matter that he has to master at moment x or repeat knowledge that was discussed earlier on in a course.  The student can answer the questions via the app, whenever it suits him/her.

Creation instead of consumption

Through interactive exercises, students work on a practical example, problem theorem or metaphor. Good e-learning is characterized by interactivity and exercises in which learners apply knowledge. Exploration in learning also stimulates this brain learning principle. Applying knowledge leads to activation of the brain (synapses) and significally improves retaining knowledge compared to looking at or listening to information.

Outcome and context orientation

Make the connection between specific business goals and the e-learning so that it is clear to the participant why he has to learn what he does. One technique we apply in e-learning to achieve this is action mapping. Action mapping focuses on the company’s goal and ensures the whole e-learning module is focused on that specific business goal. This methodology prevents an ‘information dump’ and ensures targeted, specific e-learning modules.

Sensory rich

According to the principles of brain learning, the use of different types of (multimedia) content leads to a higher learning efficiency. Good e-learning often uses metaphors, strong visualizations or video material to motivate the learner. Images are usually remembered many times better than words. Strong visual e-learning therefore increases stimulation of the brain.

Builds on the existing foundation

Involve prior knowledge in the training to increase motivation. The use of metaphors also strengthens this principle. Build on what the learner already knows, and take this knowledge to a higher level of abstraction. When designing a complete (multi-year) training program, it is important to remember this principle. Concentric training activates prior knowledge and increases learning efficiency. Use a pre-test to activate and measure existing knowledge.

E-learning and higher learning efficiency

When you take into account the principles of brain learning, creating a higher learning efficiency with e-learning becomes tangible. Make sure that the didactic concept of your e-learning contains all six principles of brain learning. Optimal stimulation of the synapses in the brain guaranteed!



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