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Connecting the Dots Between Engagement and Learning

Source | | Sara Vaccar

The adage goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh finds that it isn’t all about repetition. Rather, internal states like engagement can also have an impact on learning.

The collaborative research, published in Nature Neuroscience, examined how changes in internal states, such as arousal, attention, motivation and engagement can affect the learning process using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Findings suggest that changes in internal states can systematically influence how behavior improves with learning, thus paving the way for more effective methods to teach people skills quickly, and to a higher level of proficiency.

Internal states are known to modulate brain-wide neural activity, and studies continue to explore their impact on motor control, sensory processing and cognition. However, the specific interaction between internal states and learning is not well understood.

“Intuitively, we know that neural activity changes as we’re learning different things, because our behavior gets better with practice,” explained Jay Hennig, a graduate student in neural computation and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon. “However, what we’re finding is that it’s not just about getting better. All of the things that go on alongside of learning, such as one’s level of attention or state of arousal, play a significant role.”

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