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Role of Brain in learning and learning disabilities

Updated on November 20, 2013




Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.

• The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines.

• Human learning may occur as part of education, personal development or training. It may be goal-oriented and may be aided by motivation

What Part of the Brain Affects Learning?

Many parts of the brain are involved in learning processes, some involved in similar parts of learning and some controlling specific parts of learning. Each area of the brain develops over a course of time ranging from two to three years up to eight years. Research is constantly being done to learn more about how the brain learns.

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe (located behind the forehead) controls personality, but also problem solving,

memory, language, judgment and impulse control. The left side of this lobe is more language

based, while the right focuses on processes that do not require language. Damage to this area

of the brain may affect critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has many functions in learning, such as organizing information, memory and speech. It has controls in memory retrieval, visual memory and factual


This area of the brain is located in the lower part of the temporal lobe, and is mainly responsible for the storage and organization of memories relating to emotion. These memories are later recalled and used for reaction in similar circumstances. It is also plays a role in what memories to store and organizing the storage of all memories, which is important to learning.


The hippocampus is involved in the formation of new memories. It does this by creating concepts, and organizing experiences into them. This helps identify contexts of actions and events, and organization of these into a storage system that makes sense to the brain.


Much language learning is centered in the left frontal lobe, however another structure called the left Heschl's gyrus is found to be used in foreign language learning in adults.


Different structures of the brain are used for math skills, depending on whether you are looking for exact math, or estimation. Exact math calculations are actually linked to language centers in the left frontal lobe, while estimation is linked to the parietal lobe where spacial tasks and analogies are processed.

Critical Periods

Different areas of the brain used in learning develop fully at different periods of time. The brain must go through a period of forming synapses and then pruning back un-used connections to complete its development. Most of this occurs in the first 12 years. The frontal lobe has one of the longer periods of development taking up to ten years.

How Learning Takes Place??

One of the most exciting areas of research is the attempt to find out how learning takes place. One of the earliest researchers who attempted to explain learning and memory as a function of cellular change was the Canadian psychologist, Donald O. Hebb. He maintained that repeated firing of axons results in metabolic changes in the presynaptic and post synaptic neurons. In other words, learning produces lasting chemical changes in nerve cells.

Important neurotransmitters roles in learning process

• Dopamine:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that plays a vital role in learning. Dopamine is closely associated with reward-seeking behaviors. Recent research finds that some dopaminergic neurons react in the way expected of reward neurons and some as non reward neurons. It has been suggested that the difference between these two types of dopaminergic neurons arises from their input: reward-linked ones have input from the forebrain while the nonreward-related ones from the lateral habenula. Increased dopamine levels tend to positively affect mood, creativity and alertness. Dopamine levels typically remain elevated until midday. This is why most schools are open from early morning until late afternoon, when dopamine levels are at their peak. Dopamine plays a vital role in influencing our likes and dislikes. People with high level of dopamine are influenced by positive outcomes and vice versa, dopamine plays an important role in our decision making activities.


Acetylcholine is released in the brain during learning and is critical for the acquisition of new memories. Currently, the only effective treatment for the symptoms of cognitive impairment seen in diseases such as Alzheimer's is through the use of drugs that boost the amount of acetylcholine release and thereby enhance cognitive function. With age acetycholine synthesis declines.


Glutamate function as excitatory neurotransmitters and under abnormal conditions may behave as neurotoxins. As neurotransmitters, these compounds are thought to play an important role in functions of learning and memory. As neurotoxins, they are believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of a variety of neurodegenerative disorders in which cognition is impaired. The hippocampus that is central to learning contains high level of glutamate. Glutamate receptors decline with age but the change in glutamate with age is still unknown.

Brain-based Learning

What this theory is about???

This learning theory is based on the structure and function of the brain. As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning will occur. People often say that everyone can learn. Yet the reality is that everyone does learn. Every person is born with a brain that functions as an immensely powerful processor. Traditional schooling, however, often inhibits learning by discouraging, ignoring, or punishing the brain’s natural learning processes.

The core principles of brain-based learning state that:

The brain is a parallel processor, meaning it can perform several activities at once, like tasting and smelling.

Learning engages the whole physiology.

The search for meaning comes through patterning.

The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously.

Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.

Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.

We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.

We understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory.

Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.

Each brain is unique.

Learning Based Theory

Neuroscience has disclosed important information about the brain and how it learns. It has uncovered "unprecedented revolution of knowledge about the human brain, including how it processes, interprets and stores information" (Sousa, 1998). The new brain-based learning theory "require[s] that we now shift our focus to the learning process" Is the learning process the same as it was in the past? According to David Sousa, "yesterday's methods worked well for yesterday's students. But the student brain of today is quite different from the one of 15 years ago" (Sousa, 1998). It is therefore necessary to study how students' brains work today so that it is possible to enhance their learning.

Explanation of Theory

Today's children spend much more time with television and other electronic media than with their parents Technology can cater to these neuroscience brain-based findings in the computer lab as well as for online learning courses. Various Microsoft tools such as PowerPoint presentations, Excel, Word processor and other software with multimedia functions can be used by the teacher and students instead of using conventional outdated class tools. Since today's brain needs a TV like environment, both sound and animations can be used to suit today's learner. Lessons can be prepared by utilizing the information that is readily available on the internet. Learning can be meaningful. However to avoid frustrations and stress that can interfere with learning, lessons must be planned very carefully "to helps structure and focus students' explorations of the Net" (Deal, 1998). This will direct them to the goals at hand. Today's students experience different "patterns" rom those of the past.

Teachers can help students understand the impact negative and positive emotions have on learning. "Positive emotions such as love, excitement, enthusiasm and joy enhance the ability to process information and create permanent mental programs Learning cannot take place unless the learner feels "safe "Stress and constant fear, at any age, can circumvent the brain's normal circuits learning is based on individual patterning and experiences in this case electronic media, it is only natural that these environments be duplicated in school. Learning can no longer be limited to a single confined environment, such as the classroom. Teachers need to "establish an environment that is free from intimidation and rejection, high in acceptable challenge and where the learner experiences active participation and relaxed alertness" Computer based learning such as project work or working on Web Quests in teams of three or four is a great way to keep emotions alive. It is very challenging to work with others on a mutual goal. Since social skills are developed at this age, it is only natural for students to want to work in teams.


Students develop character and responsibility on the team. At the same time it is very important for the teacher to interact with the students to make sure that team spirit is high. If there are social problems some learners may feel threatened and uncomfortable.

This will detract from their learning. Regular reflections and team discussions will help keep the team busy with their work. Daily journal reports are an excellent way to encourage both team and individual reflections on how students feel. These should be handed in regularly. Technology and computer work is very important. It's a challenge to do projects and learn collaboratively. However, feelings must be taken into account. Teachers must monitor the room at all times. Careful attention should be given to teams that are having difficulties. This gives the teacher a chance to sit with each team in order to discuss the team's progress and encourage the members to speak about how they feel. Feelings are part of the learning process. Students should learn about emotions and their importance to the learning process.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disability (sometimes called a learning disorder or learning difficulty), is a classification including several disorders in which a person has difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually caused by an unknown factor or factors.

Unknown Factor

The unknown factor is the disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive and process information. This disorder can make it problematic for a person to learn as quickly or in the same way as someone who isn't affected by a learning disability.

Cause of Disability

Learning disabilities are believed to be caused by neurological differences in the way the brain processes information. People with learning disabilities usually have average or higher intelligence. Simply put, a person has a learning disability when his ability to learn an academic area is much lower than expected for his level of intelligence.

Interventions Can Be Made To Learn Strategies against Learning Disability

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed. Individuals with learning disabilities can face unique challenges that are often pervasive throughout the lifespan. Depending on the type and severity of the disability, interventions may be used to help the individual learn strategies that will foster future success.

Teachers and parents will be a part of the intervention in terms of how they aid the individual in successfully completing different tasks.

School psychologists quite often help to design the intervention, and coordinate the execution of the intervention with teachers and parents.

Social support can be a crucial component for students with learning disabilities in the school system, and should not be overlooked in the intervention plan.

With the right support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can succeed in school and go on to be successful later in life.

Biological Learning Disabilities

Are Learning Disabilities Biological?

• True learning disabilities (LDs) are believed to be an organic type of disability resulting from neurological processing problems that cause difficulty with learning and applying skills in one or more academic areas. Evidence suggests that a child's chances of having a learning disability increase when parents or other relatives also have learning disabilities. This suggests that heredity may play a role in some cases

• Learning disability is not indicative of intelligence level. Rather, people with a learning disability have trouble performing specific types of skills or completing tasks if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.

Top Five Emotional Difficulties with People Having Learning Disabilities

People with learning disabilities have no intelligence and problem in learning.

Learning disabilities are just an excuse for irresponsible, unmotivated or lazy people.

Learning disabilities only affect children. Adults grow out of learning disabilities

Dyslexia and learning disability is the same thing.

Learning disabilities are only academic in nature. They do not affect other areas of a person's life.

Types of Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is a broad term educators use to describe many different types of learning problems that severely affect various skills and abilities. In public schools in the United States, the IDEA includes guidelines on specific types of learning disabilities.

1) Basic reading and reading comprehension are the two broad categories of reading disabilities. Dyslexia is another term by which reading disabilities are known.

2) Basic writing and expressive writing are the two types of writing disorders. Some diagnostic systems refer to writing disorders as dysgraphia.

3) Basic math and applied math are the two main types of math disorders. Some diagnostic systems refer to math disorders as dyscalculia.


• Dyslexia is impairment in the brain's ability to translate written images received from the eyes into meaningful language. Also called specific reading disability, dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children.

• Dyslexia occurs in Individuals with normal vision and normal intelligence. Such individuals usually have normal speech but often have difficulty interpreting spoken language and writing.


• Clues to a neurological cause of dyslexia may lie in the region of the corpus callosum. Heredity may also be a factor.

• Trauma dyslexia" usually occurs after some form of brain trauma or injury to the area of the brain that controls reading and writing. It is rarely seen in today's school-age population.

• Second type of dyslexia is referred to as "primary dyslexia." This type of dyslexia is a dysfunction of, rather than damage to, the left side of the brain (cerebral cortex) and does not change with age.

• A third type of dyslexia is referred to as "secondary" or "developmental dyslexia" and is felt to be caused by hormonal development during the early stages of fetal development. Developmental dyslexia diminishes as the child matures. It is also more common in boys.

Signs and Symptoms

• Difficulty in Processing and understanding what they hear.

• They may have difficulty comprehending rapid instructions,

• following more than one command at a time or

• Remembering the sequence of things.

• Reversals of letters (b for d) and a

• Reversal of words (saw for was) are typical among individuals who have dyslexia.

• Individuals with dyslexia may also try to read from right to left,

• May fail to see (and occasionally to hear) similarities and differences in letters and words,

• may not recognize the spacing that organizes letters into separate words,

• and may be unable to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word.

Screening and diagnosis

There's no single test for dyslexia. Diagnosis involves an evaluation of

• medical,

• cognitive,

• sensory processing,

• educational and psychological factors


• Treatment programs for dyslexic children fall into three general categories: developmental, corrective, and remedial. Some programs combine elements from more than one category.

• The developmental approach involves the use of methods that have previously been used in the belief that these methods are sound and that the child needs extra time and attention.

• The corrective approach uses small groups in tutorial sessions, but it emphasizes a child's assets and interests. Those who use this method hope to encourage children to rely on their own special abilities to overcome their difficulties.

• Proponents of the remedial approach try to resolve the specific educational and psychological problems that interfere with learning.

• You may use techniques involving hearing, vision and touch to improve reading skills. Helping an individual to use several senses to learn — for example, by listening to a taped lesson and tracing with a finger the shape of the words spoken — can help you process the information. The most important teaching approach may be frequent instruction by a reading specialist who uses these multisensory methods of teaching.


The word 'dysgraphia' simply means difficulty expressing thoughts in writing. In other words, it just means 'writing difficulty'. And generally it is used to refer to extremely poor handwriting and may even be identified to as a 'disorder of written expression'.

These are a few of the symptoms a person with dysgraphia will experience:

• Irregular letter sizes and shapes

• A mixture of upper and lowercase letters

• Unfinished letters

• Irregular writing grip

• Many spelling mistakes

• Inability to write legibly

• When a person writes, they have to use the several different mental functions, including memory, organization, motor skills, and more. But when they have a symptom of dysgraphia, or various symptoms, they attempt to focus so much energy on the writing itself that they forget what they are going to write.

Dysgraphia effecting motor skills:
Dysgraphia, a disorder that hinders your handwriting ability, not only can affect your writing but also other motor skills.


• The word "dyscalculia" means difficulty performing math calculations. In other words, it just means "math difficulty". And specifically, it means a learning disability which affects math and difficulties vary from person to person and affect people differently in school and throughout life.

• In childhood, difficulty in learning of counting and recognizing numbers, in school age children, it can be that they can’t remember the tables and can’t solve basic math. Then in teenagers and adults it is in more advance form because a person can have all other good capabilities but cant do advance level math

• When a trained professional evaluates a student, the student is interviewed about a full range of math-related skills. The evaluation compares a person's expected and actual levels of skill and understanding while noting the person's specific strengths and weaknesses.

• part of the brain called the parietal lobe improved the ability of volunteers to solve numerical problems.


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    • profile image

      ojamegha atase 

      3 years ago

      A very useful write up. Thanks.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I look forward to heraing more from your blog as this type of information would be of real benefit to my clients in the manufacturing sector and NHS.I would advocate the use of visual management to support staff with specific learning disabilities such as Dyslexia I understand that around 10% of any workforce has some form of learning disability such as Dyslexia. Furthermore it is likely that only 2 or 3% of these people are aware.Lean, 5S, Visual management and Visual works instructions are all excellent for communicating operational information and instructions to this section of your workforce. Not only, presenting information in this way will help you meet your obligations under the DDA (disability discrimination act)Good luck wioth this blogMark

    • faiza taj profile imageAUTHOR

      Doctor Kanwal 

      4 years ago from PAKISTAN

      Thanks for the kind comments! I am glad that you see value in the content.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This article is very comprehensive and very well structured.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      information is good,find it informitive

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comment I am glad that you found this to be useful

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      very useful i was unaware thanks.. voted up


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