How the Brain Learns

Instructional design is a lot like preparing to build a house.

Every process is important in building a house: outline the foundation, plan a framework, design a roof, calculate the construction. If one process is omitted or not executed well, the house will not serve its intended purpose. Learning occurs in much the same way. If the instructional plans disregard an essential process, learning will suffer.

How the Brain Learns

1. Experience

The brain takes in raw data through the senses

2. Comprehension

The brain identifies and organizes this data to build knowledge

3. Elaboration

The brain recognizes patterns in the sorted data and recalls experiences with similar patterns;
the new data merges with prior experiences to build understanding

4. Application

The brain seeks a use for the new understanding and tries applying it in a supportive context, like a classroom

5. Intention

The brain looks for real-world applications of deep understandings


Experience provides us with new information. As we organize that new information, we gain new knowledge. As we recognize patterns in that new information and compare them with our reference points of past experiences, we construct new understanding. When we see the usefulness of this new understanding through practice, we can apply new learning in contexts beyond the classroom.