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Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2014 Jul;44(6):141-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2014.01.003.

Teaching adults-best practices that leverage the emerging understanding of the neurobiology of learning.

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Department of Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, OH.
Workforce Development & Education, School of Education, The Ohio State University, OH.


It is important in teaching adults to recognize the essential characteristics of adult learners and how these characteristics define their learning priorities and activities. The seven key premises and practices for teaching adults provide a good guide for those interested in helping adults learn. The emerging science of the neurobiology of learning provides powerful new insights into how learning occurs in the complex integrated neural network that characterizes the adult. Differentiation of the two types of thinking: System 1 (fast, intuitive, and, often, emotional) and System 2 (slower, deliberate, and logical). System 1 thinking helps explain the basis for quick decisions and reliance of humans on heuristics (or rules of thumb) that leads to the type of convenient thinking associated with errors of thinking and judgment. We now know that the learning experience has an objective location-in the temporal and parietal lobes-as persistent dynamic networks of neurons and neuronal connections. Learning is initially stored in transient working memory (relatively limited capacity and time frame) and then moved under the right conditions to more long-lasting/stable memory (with larger capacity) that is stored for future access and development. It is clear that memories are not static and are not destined, once developed, to forever remain as stable constructs; rather, memories are dynamic, always available for modulation and alteration, and heavily invested with context, emotion, and other operant factors. The framework for such neural networks involves new neuronal connections, enhanced neuronal synaptic transmission, and neuron generation. Ten key teaching and learning concepts derived from recent neurobiology studies on learning and memory are presented. As the neurobiology of learning is better defined, the basis for how adults best learn, and even the preferences they display, can be employed as the physiological foundation for our best methods to effectively teach adults and facilitate their learning.

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