Each of us comes into the world with genes that are packed full of relevant survival information that has been previously selected by our ancestors’ successful interactions with their world. (For detailed information and scientific research please see Chapter 9 of Cracking the Learning Code).
To improve on this previously selected information, the second stage of learning takes place as your environmental interactions help you to add more and more synapses and dendritic branches to these existing structures. Your personal experiences then allow refinement of the neural networks that have been prewired by your genes.
As an infant, you entered the world equipped to immediately recognize an abundance of auditory, visual, taste, smell, and touch stimuli. Environmental encounters then helped you select new information that resonated with the existing networks and, over time, through experience, refine this information, increasing your Individual Adaptability/ Intelligence Factor and making it easier for you to fit your world.
Harvard neuroscientist Jerome Kagan says: “No act, idea, image, or word is learned in isolation or ever becomes completely isolated. Every mind consists of nests of interconnected elements that are continually being reorganized with use.
Because instructionist methods approach the brain as an empty vessel to be filled by authorities’ directives, information that you’ve previously acquired and deemed personally meaningful is seen as having little relevance to the learning process. This view perpetuates the idea that if someone can just force you to memorize enough facts—even if they aren’t meaningful to you—you’ll remember them. Of course we know this isn’t true at all. We’ll dive much deeper into the value of personal meaning and why it is the “Holy Grail of learning motivation and behavioral change” in later chapters of the book.