CTL Teaching & Learning Tip #4: Helping Students Learn How to Learn

September 12, 2017

Tip #4: Helping Students Learn How to Learn

Did you know that the brain is not fully developed until about age 25 (Giedd, Blumenthal, Jeffries, Castellanos, Liu, Zijdenbos, Rapoport, 1999)?!  How can we support this development in our college students and what are some of the optimal conditions for learning? Brain-based learning is a fascinating science of understanding how we learn. When one begins to understand how they learn, they can then understand how to most effectively adapt and transfer to new contexts for successful learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). According to Doyle, 2011, the human brain is designed to explore and learn. This is made more effective with practice. Practice over extended periods of time helps our neurons become stronger and faster, because these make permanent connections/memories in our brain that later help us to transfer this knowledge to new learning (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013).

What helps our students learn (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013):

  • Sleep is vital - 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night is ideal (memories are made during sleep)
  • Exercise improves learning (also improves motivation)
  • Multi-sensory learning increases probability of retaining information
  • Practice, practice, practice (“the more work your brain does, the greater the number of connections established”)
  • Real-life, meaningful and authentic learning induces dopamine, which has been shown to help learners retain new information
  • The brain is social; we evolved to collaborate with others
  • Feedback is a key element in creating a growth mindset (mindset: understanding a learner's belief in their own abilities/traits to learn) (See Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential by Carol Dweck)


  • Recommend “The New Science of Learning” to your students
  • Share some excerpts with your students - see a sample of some “Excerpts” by Beth Wilson
  • Check out the HSU Library Brain Booth - an informal, experiential space to learn about the mind body connection and optimize learning

Look for upcoming CTL Teaching & Learning Tips on: Metacognition, Mindset, and Transference

Contributed by Kim Vincent-Layton, Center for Teaching & Learning


  • Bransford, J.D., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  • Doyle, T (2011, March). How Brain Research Findings are Changing Our Understanding of Learning. Keynote presentation at the Lilly West Conference Series on University Teaching and Learning: Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Pomona, CA.
  • Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: how to learn in harmony with your brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Giedd, J. N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N. O., Castellanos, F. X., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, A., Rapoport, J. L. (1999). Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study. Nature Neuroscience, 2(10), 861–3.

See past tips at: CTL Teaching & Learning Tips

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