Blog - How Learning takes place

How Learning takes place

When we do something, nerve cells in the brain, known as neurons are fired up. They talk to each other in a way similar to passing a baton in a relay race, forming a pathway; a neural pathway. Just like passing the baton becomes quicker and more fluid with practice, so too the more an action is repeated the more established the pathway and the quicker and easier the action and reaction, until it eventually becomes an automatic learned response like driving a car or riding a bike for example.

The simplest way to remember the process is to think of it like a field of long grass. The first time you walk across the field may take a while and you’ll bend the stalks. Next time you’ll make more of an impression and so on. By the time you’ve walked the same path 20-30 times there’ll be a bit of a track and you’ll be able to walk it faster. Within a short space of time you’ll have an established track that you’ll use every time rather than walking across the ‘untouched’ area.

Now think of a learned behaviour in a dog; the easiest is chasing a cat as most dogs do so and you will either have seen it or experienced the reaction first hand...

The first time the dog sees a cat whilst out on lead he may try to chase the cat a bit tentatively, maybe showing a bit of interest and pulling a little. However as the behaviour becomes more established so does the speed of the reaction - the dog may only be pulling as much as he ever did but the speed in which he reacts is much faster and as such becomes an out and out lunge... mix this with some of the chemicals that are flying around the brain and you could have a lunging barking snarling dog.

To change behaviour you need to do two things. Firstly stop/prevent the dog from using the neural pathway that has been set up. The way that I do it initially is to let the dog make the mistake and then correct it the first time, thereafter working on the intention of action or when the dog ‘thinks’ about chasing the cat; preventing him from going down the path in effect. Secondly, train the dog to do a new behaviour, for example walking with me on a loose lead when he sees a cat, in effect setting up a new neural pathway or dirt track across the field, if you like.

By catching the intention rather than waiting for the action you’re stopping the old unwanted pathway being used... by doing this, just like a field reclaiming a track, the pathway in the brain will die out through lack of use. The saying “use it or lose it” springs to mind here.

This is why it’s so important to repeat over and over again anything that is being learned in the same systematic way... it’s also why behaviour that you don’t want should be corrected rather ignored... we only want the neural pathway established for the behaviour we want, not the behaviour we don’t want.

A simple example is to think back to when you were learning to read. The alphabet was recited over and over again - if you pronounced a letter wrong you would have been corrected and made to repeat the letter with the correct pronunciation...

first published 10 August 2019

Blog - How Learning takes place

When we do something, nerve cells in the brain, known as neurons are fired up. They talk to each other in a way similar to passing a baton in a relay race, forming a pathway; a neural pathway. Just like passing the baton becomes quicker and more fluid with practice, so too the more an action is repeated the more established the pathway and the quicker and easier the action and reaction, until it eventually becomes an automatic learned response like driving a car or riding a bike for example.

How Learning takes place

The simplest way to remember the process is to think of it like a field of long grass. The first time you walk across the field may take a while and you’ll bend the stalks. Next time you’ll make more of an impression and so on. By the time you’ve walked the same path 20-30 times there’ll be a bit of a track and you’ll be able to walk it faster. Within a short space of time you’ll have an established track that you’ll use every time rather than walking across the ‘untouched’ area.

Now think of a learned behaviour in a dog; the easiest is chasing a cat as most dogs do so and you will either have seen it or experienced the reaction first hand...

The first time the dog sees a cat whilst out on lead he may try to chase the cat a bit tentatively, maybe showing a bit of interest and pulling a little. However as the behaviour becomes more established so does the speed of the reaction - the dog may only be pulling as much as he ever did but the speed in which he reacts is much faster and as such becomes an out and out lunge... mix this with some of the chemicals that are flying around the brain and you could have a lunging barking snarling dog.

To change behaviour you need to do two things. Firstly stop/prevent the dog from using the neural pathway that has been set up. The way that I do it initially is to let the dog make the mistake and then correct it the first time, thereafter working on the intention of action or when the dog ‘thinks’ about chasing the cat; preventing him from going down the path in effect. Secondly, train the dog to do a new behaviour, for example walking with me on a loose lead when he sees a cat, in effect setting up a new neural pathway or dirt track across the field, if you like.

By catching the intention rather than waiting for the action you’re stopping the old unwanted pathway being used... by doing this, just like a field reclaiming a track, the pathway in the brain will die out through lack of use. The saying “use it or lose it” springs to mind here.

This is why it’s so important to repeat over and over again anything that is being learned in the same systematic way... it’s also why behaviour that you don’t want should be corrected rather ignored... we only want the neural pathway established for the behaviour we want, not the behaviour we don’t want.

A simple example is to think back to when you were learning to read. The alphabet was recited over and over again - if you pronounced a letter wrong you would have been corrected and made to repeat the letter with the correct pronunciation...

first published 10 August 2019