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Cognition and learning (REDESIGNED)

Studies show that people learn more when their social and emotional needs are taken care of.

New evidence from neuroscience is changing our understanding of how students learn. Our brains change as we age and interact with the world, especially the ideas and people we’re exposed to.

Our brains don’t necessarily get bigger or stronger over time. Instead, they make new connections or break existing ones in as we adapt to life events.

Early experiences of children and young people influence their skills in later life. The organisation of their brains reflects this. There are even common patterns of brain development between young people of the same age.

The support and encouragement young people get influences their future success and health.

Nonetheless, young people’s brains will always mature in different directions. This is true even when they live in otherwise similar environments.

During some life stages, we can measure the brain developing much more than usual. These are:

  • The prenatal period through to childhood
  • Adolescence
  • Becoming a parent
  • Later life

Good social and emotional health improves learning

Social experience is vital for good learning.

Socialising at home, at work, or somewhere else in the community all count.

Better emotional and social health can also improve “hard” skills like problem-solving. There is evidence that regular socialising improves how the body regulates hormones. This improves sleep quality, cognition and general health.

Standardised assessments are not a complete picture

Standardised cognitive tests can give a useful idea of a child’s ability compared to peers, but educators must use other tools as well.
Children who appear to learn at a slower rate than their peers may need extra support.

Some learning difficulties are more severe than others:

  • specific learning difficulties (SpLD)
  • moderate learning difficulties (MLD)
  • severe learning difficulties (SLD)
  • profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).

Last updated 17 September 2020

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