Dec 13, 2011 by Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

ability to learn

Learning is both a behavioral and biological process that is supported by the neurons in the brain over time.

When we learn, our brain cells physically change in response to stimulation, forming pathways to facilitate the connections we use repeatedly. For example, if you meet a person only once, you might not remember their name or recognize their face if you were to run into them on the street ten years on. On the other hand, if you see that person every day for a year, you will likely be able to recognize their face and remember their name much more readily should you not see that person for a long period of time.

Learning processes like these in the brain take predictable, measured amounts of time. While these rates will vary from person to person and nervous system to nervous system, we can depend upon certain relatively constant timeframes for learning and processing an understanding of some of these timeframes can allow educators to take maximum advantage of them. That’s why the Fast ForWord® productsfunction on each of these scales by design, using the power of optimal timing to improve the brain’s ability to learn.

Learning depends upon a specific feedback loop characterized by timing between stimulus, response and reward [i] . Here are some of those timescales, along with how Fast ForWord works within each:

  • Milliseconds: Auditory processinghappens on the millisecond timescale. Fast ForWord helps improves auditory processing rate to ensure that students are able to “keep up” with auditory input such as spoken directions from their teacher.
  • Seconds:Reinforcement learning happens on a scale of seconds and is achieved by interacting with one’s surroundings.  The Fast ForWord program’s reward system is based on this time scale, delivering rewards to students at just the right moment to maximize reinforcement learning, helping students get the most benefit from the program.
  • Minutes:Our actions change based on how we perceive our surroundings. This kind of adaptation can take minutes. As students move through Fast ForWord exercises, they can see their performance results changing minute by minute. Being able to see such improvement helps motivate students toward greater learning. In other words, as they perceive the positive results of their actions, students adapt and learn to generate more of those positive results.
  • Days or Weeks:Consolidation and maturation of memories can take days or weeks. When a student overcomes an obstacle in Fast ForWord, their confidence is strengthened and they not only learn the material, but they learn about their own capabilities and what success feels like. The memories of such experiences and the associated feelings – gathered and built upon over the days, weeks and months – lay the foundation to spur them on to future success. Such success in the classroom can lead to a greater drive to perform well in other areas, such as doing well on a test, winning on the athletic field, or successfully completing that college application.   We cannot underestimate the power of experiencing success and the sensation that it creates.

In the classroom, having an awareness of how long it takes for a student to assimilate and process certain kinds of information can add an entirely different rhythm to our instruction. In having such an understanding of how the brains of our students work, we can time our teaching to optimize learning and help our students achieve maximum success.


[i] Why Time MattersTemporal Dynamics of Learning Center. University of California San Diego

Related Reading:

The Brain Gets Better at What it Does: Dr. Martha Burns on Brain Plasticity

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills