How The Brain Learns – Making Sense


You are a proud owner of the human brain. Did you know, (scientifically proven), that our brains have been evolving for about six million years but we have only had language in the last quarter of a million years? That is in about 250,000 years. 

All this time before the development of popular language, our brains thought in a language called ‘mentalese’ (rhymes with Japanese). This language is kind of like a computer code or computer language that expresses meaning without the use of language. The brain after many years of evolutionary pressure developed a remarkably small language module but it kept running with the same computer code or computer language. After a while, the brain could now translate mentalese into spoken language enabling us to express our thoughts.

What does this all mean when it comes to how we learn, how we teach (whether by a teacher or parent) and how we can leverage on this bit of information to bring about effective teaching and learning?

When we teach, learning goes through a pattern of stages. 


If learning skips the essential aspects of the working or permament memory to expression, students will most likely lose information quickly. This makes them either cram, just to pour out information; which ultimately leads to the jettisoning of useful/important information OR make no sense of it all. 


At the input stage, listening occurs through the use of language and more (spoken words, written words through reading, pictures, and or observations made.


At the working memory stage, the message arrives. The learning may make observations too e.g in science. Meaning is beginning to be created. The learner translates meaning from Language to mentalese just to make sense. This involves:

  • forming concepts
  • making links between concepts
  • making links to prior learning

With this pattern of ‘deep learning’, understanding is created. Because it is greatly helped by reasoning and repeated exposure to the topic. Reasoning not reproduction helps people make meaning.


Here, understanding comes together in an encoded form as information builds to connect all links. This of course includes prior learning. In simpler words, what your student/child already knows and has experienced merges with older links that helped to create understanding . This understanding finally forms new learning.


Truth be told, if your child/student cannot express whatever they have learnt sequentially, be rest assured that learning has not truly occurred. This is how people are able to express learning.

  • Personal ideas in memory are recalled.
  • They arrive in the working memory in mentalese.
  • They are translated into English, Hausa, Ibibio or whatever.
  • They are expressed in speech, writing, or in thoughts. 

When you are teaching, ensure that you and your child/student are constantly connecting the dots from existing knowledge to related concepts to previous knowledge which culminates in new learning. Then you move to expression. Expression helps learning even though it is not an easy process either. But, when we express knowledge and ideas clearly, we show that we know what we know which makes us make sense. Then we can say that learning has occurred.

Learning is making sense, not just remembering.

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