Transforming Learning | The Learning Code Institute

Meaning – The Holy Grail of Learning for HomeSchooling

“Genes Change Slowly, Your Brain Changes Quickly”

Whether you are a parent confronted with the seemingly overwhelming task of effectively teaching a school curriculum to your children, or a marketing executive seeking tools cut through the millions of messages your potential customers receive, engaging your audience cannot be effectively accomplished without  tapping into their meaning networks. 

One of the tenets of the Learning Code is there is no learning without meaning. Today we’ll introduce you to the science behind what you intuitively know: you remember what is meaningful to you, and forget almost everything else.

Personal meaning isn’t just the criteria by which information is selected into your long-term memory bank and the fastest way to increase your Individual Adaptability/Intelligence Factor, it also creates the neurochemistry that motivates you and your children and helps to feel joy. From the viewpoint of biology, genetics, and neuroscience, personal meaning is the Holy Grail of learning, motivation, and behavioral change, which makes it a primary key to unlocking the  Learning Code for each of us. Looking at learning through the lens of science brings another dividend. We’re able to answer the question, where does meaning come from?

The Role of Meaning in Learning?

Our traditional authoritarian corporate and scholastic systems rely primarily on reward and punishment to impose learning, unwittingly creating a neurological climate that not only inhibits motivation and long-term memory formation, but may even breed out your ability to create personal meaning and construct the foundations for the psychological condition called codependency.

What you and your children want in life, isn’t all about grit or persistence, but connecting to what is most meaningful. This may be particularly important to you today if you are committed to providing homeschooling for your children. You’ll also discover that your brain has a Meaning Network, a group of neurological structures that must be stimulated before new information can be selected into our long-term memory banks. If these structures aren’t stimulated by what you’re attempting to learn, not only do all of us remember very little, but our levels of motivation, satisfaction, and joy plummet.

Your Brain Is a Meaning Selector

We know the animals that have made it through the changes demanded by evolution are those that possess a brain structure that has adapted to selecting the information which supports surviving and thriving. Your brain is bombarded with billions of bits of auditory, visual, tactile, taste, and smell information every second. Your brain couldn’t possibly select all this miscellaneous information, or your head would be as big as a blimp.

One way to look at your brain is as a personal-meaning selector that scans the billions of bits of incoming information bombarding it each second and asks, “Which of these bits will help me survive and thrive, and which won’t?” Your brain then creates the neurological changes that allow you to select the important stuff and discard the rest. 

One group of researchers who tried to sort out how students remember what they’d read found that a passage’s significance to the reader was 3,000 percent more important than how readable it was! In the end, you remember information not because you memorized it or took a test, but because of how meaningful it is to you.

Of course, those who design learning systems are continually looking for ways to trick your brain into remembering—using peg systems, acronyms, and mental imaging in the hope these strategies will help you learn information faster and more effectively. But you don’t have to rely on gimmicks to remember information. Neuroscience has shown the easiest and fastest way to create new learning is for any new information to resonate with previously encoded information.

Your Brain’s Primary Work

Your brain’s main job is to continually search the environment for new information that meshes with your potent pre- existing neural networks, which are coding for personal meaning. These networks then act like powerful magnetic hooks, attracting and snagging new information that resonates with them. As these networks of cells incorporate more information, they become larger and more potent in attracting more of the kind of information that harmonizes with them. These strong networks have mass and attraction and always make it easier to remember information about subjects and activities that are already significant for you.

The more meaning you place on something (whether it’s enjoying food, tracking baseball statistics, solving math equations, sewing, fly fishing, acquiring apartment complexes, shooting baskets, decorating your house, or playing the stock market), the easier it is for you to select new knowledge that resonates with what you already consider important. Because of genetic variation, each of us will place a different value on stimuli from our environment, making each person proficient in an area most of our fellow humans are not. 

Meaning Grows Your Brain Tissues

Any time you encounter information with personal meaning, large numbers of neurons fire simultaneously, which sets off the neurochemical process that prompts your genes to express the proteins that build the synaptic structures that hold new learning.

Think of a tree that can grow new branches and leaves, but only from what already exists—the trunk and existing branches. The same is true in your brain.

In a gross oversimplification, we can say that your lower-order branching is laid down by your genes, and higher-order branching is new learning selected by your environmental interactions. Therefore, we can say that the only way new information finds a place in your brain is by attaching itself to structures that hold meaningful information learned in the past.

What we find significant as a child or adult is directed by these previously encoded neural networks. The brain tissue that represents this meaningful information is continually searching our world to attract and hook information that matches it. 

When new information doesn’t match your pre-existing value networks, the latest data doesn’t have much of a chance of being selected into your brain structures. Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman points out, “The driving forces of animal behavior are thus evolutionarily selected value patterns that help the brain, and the body maintain the conditions necessary to continue living.”

The kitchen is also a great place to learn science. You can teach them about the different chemicals in food and how they interact with each other to create tasty dishes..

Incorporate your kids’ interests and passions into lessons.

  • Talk to your kids and find out what they are interested in.
  • Use that interest to inspire a lesson, or at least activity.
  • For example, if your child has a passion for dinosaurs, you can have them make their own dinosaur (or several) and then study its characteristics together.

The Neurochemical Pathway to Joy and Fulfillment

Meaning not only sets up the neurochemical climate for you to learn faster but also stimulates chemical pathways that allow you to feel joy and fulfillment. It’s critical for all animals to know when they’re proceeding in a favorable direction, so neurochemical circuits give positive feedback when you’re engaged in meaningful behaviors such as eating, sex, a favorite hobby, or a wonderful job. When you pursue what’s important to you, you stimulate the structures that prompt the release of three of your brain’s powerful pleasure-inducing neurochemicals called monoamines: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. 

The primary reason for seeking out meaningful things and repeating meaningful behaviors is that when you experience them, you stimulate these three potent neurochemical systems. 

One reason that school and work can often feel so boring, unfulfilling and stressful is that your involvement with it doesn’t access the vital networks that hold personal meaning, and therefore doesn’t fire these systems. 

The Key to Motivation

Your internal motivation also has its genesis in what you find meaningful. When we’re internally motivated, the neurological structures and chemicals that support learning, creativity, and fulfillment are automatically stimulated so that we move in meaningful directions. Research confirms the search for meaning is at the heart of intrinsic motivation and that much of the energy and drive to pursue goals and engage in essential tasks comes from the search for meaning.

You’re able to accomplish so many great things when you’re driven by internal motivation because following what’s personally meaningful sets up a neurological climate that is joyful and helps you easily select large amounts of new information, which, in turn, helps propel you toward personal success. This is why we encourage you to “follow the meaning… not the money.”

Individuals who’ve made a difference in the world, such as Beethoven, Darwin, Edison, Einstein, Churchill, Buckminster Fuller, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, and Stephen Hawking accomplished great achievements despite personal challenges and initial failures primarily because their work was so meaningful to them.

Learning systems that rely on extrinsic motivators, such as reward and punishment, are limited in their ability to increase our Individual Adaptability/Intelligence Factors because they fail to stimulate the brain structures that advance knowledge acquisition and feelings of contentment.

Where Does Personal Meaning Come From?

In researching the power of meaning on learning and motivation, two questions arise. The first: “Where does personal meaning come from?”

By what criteria do you decide which of the billions of bits of information you are continually bombarded with will be selected into your long-term memory and which won’t? 

The second question: “Why is there such divergence in what individuals find meaningful?” Why does one person devote his/her life to say, fly-fishing, while another wants to be a concert pianist?

What Are the Sources of Meaning?

Recent research and discoveries in biology, genetics, and neuroscience now provide a clear scientific perspective. There can be only two sources of personal meaning and meaning variation: our genes and our environment. These elements build your neurological structures from which meaning springs.

How Your Genes Affect What You Find Meaningful

Your genes have carried information for millions of years that has ensured our species survival. These genes house your instinctual drives such as bonding, mating, nesting, hoarding, imitating, and marking your territory. These are the structures that hold the values that have become meaningful to you and prompt you to move in directions that help you find the right mate, make a comfortable home, imitate your peers, and protect your property.

Genetic variation ensures the chances of two humans having the same genetic makeup is 10 to the 1200th power. To get the idea of how huge a number this is, it has been estimated that there are only 1082 atoms in the known universe! This high level of genetic variation ensures none of us will ever find the exact same things meaningful. This is nature’s way of assuring the survival of the species. On a simple level one person with a musically dominated intelligence may favor pitch, another tone, and another, lyrics. However no two people can possess the exact same neural connections that would allow them to find the exact same things meaningful. 

The Important Role of the Environment

The environments we inhabit also build neural networks, which then become another source of personal meaning. This is evidenced in geographical  preferences – Wisconsinites love bratwurst and beer, the Japanese treasure sushi & sake, and Cambodians are drawn to Buddhism. Your neocortex is extremely flexible, which makes it susceptible to being shaped by your environments. The longer you’re exposed to a particular environment, the larger and more powerful these networks become. In the end your genes and your environmental encounters have built a brain where every single one of your neural networks stores information that you find meaningful.

Accelerate Learning with Hot Networks and Wrapping

When pre-existing networks that code what you find meaningful are turned on and firing, they become what we at The Learning Institute call “hot.” As you’ve seen, large numbers of neurons firing simultaneously, in turn, cause the chemical cascade that produces the synaptic growth that holds long- term memory. Nothing creates simultaneous firing in large groups of your brain cells more efficiently than presenting something to your brain that it already finds meaningful. When your value networks are “hot”, it’s easier for new information to bond to these stimulated structures.

A process called “Wrapping” purposefully matches new learning with what an individual already holds significant. The job of the educator becomes to pre-fire, or make hot, the student’s existing information networks and then introduce or Wrap new knowledge in the context of those values.

Metaphor is a powerful form of learning because it takes advantage of pre-stimulated Hot Networks. No matter what you want to learn or what you want others to learn—whether it’s science, math, reading, management techniques, computer programs, or moral ideas—learning is accelerated when new information is Wrapped in meaning.

Wrapping is a disarmingly simple concept. However, it doesn’t lend itself to the mechanistic, impersonal, factory model of learning. It requires creativity and curiosity. For Wrapping to be effective, both the learner and the teacher must know what the learner values in life. Those who have applied the Wrapping technique find that the teacher’s role changes, from trying to cram information into the passive learner, to a mentor helping the student become a fulfilled human being.

Wrapping in the Classroom: Building Greater Cooperation and Empathy

We’ve found that when teachers take the time to have meaningful discussions with the whole class, first in small groups and then in the classroom as a whole, an interesting dynamic emerges: students begin to see each other for who they really are as human beings. Peer pressure lessens and they begin to focus less on the clothes and shoes they wear, what homes they live in, how rich their families are, and more who they are on a deeper level. Really, isn’t this what we’re looking for from our fellow humans? The teacher found cooperation, empathy, and compassion between students rose dramatically. They stopped judging each other on the materialistic and egoic level and started seeing each other in a more profound context.

Where does Personal Meaning Come From?

For example, when someone says they want to make more money because they want to buy a bigger, better house, the next question is, “Why do you want a bigger, better house?” It may take some time, but with patience and persistence, if the environment is safe enough, the person may divulge that they want to be seen see as more influential or they want to feel safer. This deeper level of self-knowledge may be a revelation to that person as well as the team.

Your genes and your environment create the neurological structures from which meaning springs. These meaning structures possess mass (neurons and synapses). Like a magnet this mass naturally attracts information from your world that resonates with it. This is why it is so much easier for you to learn and remember knowledge that is deeply meaningful to you. 

To learn more about the science behind personal meaning and how you can apply these and many more ground breaking strategies in homeschooling and all of your relationships please visit us HERE.