Brain-Based, Active, and Self-Directed Learning

Learning Theories and Instruction

The fact that the brain is a living organism connected to each part of the body, making it actively involved in the learning process is the main focus of the brain-based learning instruction (Houff, Klinger, & Coffman, 2013). This type of instruction is learner centered and understands the individual learning process and the ability of each person to incorporate new knowledge into pre-existing concepts.

To achieve successful learning, the main objective of the brain-based instruction is to stimulate the brain of the learner through a rich environment where the learner will find interactive activities that will maintain learners’ engagement during the learning process.

According to Houff, Klinger, and Coffman (2013), it is student-centered learning that utilizes the whole brain and recognizes that not all students learn in the same way. It is also an active process where students are actively engaged in constructing their own knowledge in a variety of learning situations and contexts.

The brain-based learning puts in the table a different approach to learning that is not what I used to see in the typical classroom format, where the strategies are focused on content and how to present it but not on what activities could be more stimulating and engaging for the students. And this is of serious consideration if we want to ensure all individuals make the most out of any learning experience through their lifespan.

To understand more the brain-based instruction I searched articles about the subject in EdITLib, which is a digital library dedicated to education and information technology ( In this library I found an interesting research called “using Brain-Based Learning Strategies in the Classroom” (Houff, Klinger, & Coffman, 2013). And one aspect from this research captured my attention which is the explanation in easy terms of specific chemical and functional processes in the brain that are relevant information to understand learning processes. Below I cite some of the passages that I considered relevant from this article:

“Through recall, chemicals and neurotransmitters are released into the endocrine system which is connected to synapses, altering and intensifying our conscious experience of the situation. Thus, emotions aid in memory retention or learning. When the threat is decreased through cooperation and a safe learning environment, motivation is increased and positive emotions flourish which helps learning retention (Jensen, as cited in Houff, Klinger, & Coffman, 2013, p.2062).”

“Through extensive brain research, neuroscientists have found that neurons continue to grow throughout adulthood. Thus, if we continually exercise our brains with complex cognitive processes, such as active engagement with content, our existing neural dendrite branches will continually grow and cultivate.” (Houff, Klinger, & Coffman, 2013, p.2061).

“The brain is unique. It is continually developed through each interaction within our environment that we are immersed in at a particular place and time. Neuroscientists have identified this phenomenon as plasticity. A process where our neural pathways are created each time we use our brains to think through a complex problem. If we do not think through complex problems, we lose these neural pathways through the process of pruning (Carter, 2006; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001, as cited in Houff, Klinger, & Coffman, 2013, p.2062).”

To implement brain-based strategies in learning experiences I considered that the “Active and Self-directed Learning” (ASDL) model would be advantageous because it includes self-regulation activities such as self-paced learning, critical evaluation, and internal control that could be strengthened during the adolescence when the brain is still developing and is adaptable. And this is why I wanted to read more about ASDL.

ASDL is split into a four part learning cycle:

1) Sensitisation: in this phase, the new topic is presented to active students’ prior knowledge and here is where the process stimulates student’s motivation,

2) Exploration: offering students possibilities to understand subject matter in a meaningful way.

3) Integration: helping students integrate various topics from multidisciplinary perspectives, and

 4) Application: offering students possibilities to show their abilities to apply and reflect on the subject studied.

The cycle supports problem-based learning and the developing minds of students through the integration of information, critical thinking and self-evaluation, while also teaching self-responsibility and team management skills (Czabanowska, Moust, Meijer, Schröder-Bäck, and Reobertsen, 2012).

I consider is worth reading the ASDL model presented by Czabanowska, Moust, Meijer, Schröder-Bäck, and Reobertsen due to its offering of different steps to enhance learning in students with a rich environment combining different activities that stimulate the brain and help students create meaningful connections of the new content. This research can be found in the Journal of university Teaching & Learning Practice (


Czabanowska, K., Moust, J., Meijer, A., Schröder-Bäck, P., and Reobertsen, H. (2012). Problem-based learning revisited, introduction of active and self-directed learning to reduce fatigue among students. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice. Vol. 9 (1). Retrieved from,

Houff, S., Klinger, M.B. & Coffman, T. (2013). Using brain-based learning strategies in the classroom. In. Jan Herrington et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2013 (pp. 2060-2069). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved from,