TO LEARN OR NOT TO LEARN - WHY IS THE QUESTION?
By Dr. Charles T Krebs
Introduction to Specific Learning Difficulties:
All learning dysfunctions, hence difficulty in learning, have their root in how the brain functions. The brain is designed to “learn”. From the time we are born until we die, learning is as natural as breathing, and certainly as important since our very survival depends on it.
Initially it is our physical survival that depends on learning “Look both ways before crossing the road!”. Later in technological societies it is our economic survival and success that are dependent upon what we learned in the educational and training environments we encountered. Since learning is so natural, why is it that some of us learn easily, others learn only with difficulty, while others have a difficult time learning traditional skills such as reading, spelling, and mathematics at all?
You might say it is all a matter of access: what brain functions you can access, how well you can access the functions available, and what you have to access. A person with low innate intelligence, but full access to all brain functions may find learning difficult. On the other hand, a person of high innate intelligence, but with problems accessing specific brain functions may also experience difficulty learning, at least in some areas. The brain functions much like water running down a hill; it will always take the most direct processing route available. Unimpeded, water will always run straight down the hill, but if its path is blocked, it will seek the next most direct route down the hill. If that path is also blocked, it will again seek the next most direct route, etc. Each time it is blocked, the pathway becomes longer and less efficient at getting the water down the hill.
The same is true of processing in the brain. If all functions are equally accessible, the brain will always choose the simplest, most direct functions to do the processing required. However, there are many ways of performing all mental tasks and the brain will just choose the next most efficient route for processing if the most direct function is not available/accessible for whatever reason. If the next most efficient pathway is also blocked, the brain will then route the processing to other functions that are accessible, even if these functions are a far less efficient way of processing that information. If many brain functions are not accessible, the processing path may become very long and inefficient creating difficulties in doing tasks dependent upon these processes.
Each time the processing path becomes longer and less efficient, the level of “stress” encountered using that pathway increases. When the level of “stress” reaches a high enough level, we may opt out of situations that require us to access these functions altogether.
Different learning tasks require access to different functions and/or combinations of functions in the brain. The brain can be divided into several functional regions, each of which processes information in different and often unique ways. The two brain regions recognized most commonly by people are the right and left cerebral hemispheres. When the brain is removed from the skull, it appears to have two distinct “halves” because of the deep longitudinal fissure separating the cerebral hemispheres.