The Power of Dopamine
Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter. Understanding the role neurotransmitters play in the learning process can create a powerful teaching tool.
- Neurotransmitters associated with experiences with high emotional tags are memory fixatives.
- The brain makes its own rewards and they are more powerful than anything tangible. Don't think that the only way foster the release of dopamine is through extrinsic reward. When kids have a positive learning experience they will come back wanting more without extrinsic rewards. The good feelings associated with learning something IS the reward. By committing to this way of thinking you will help students foster and strengthen natural intrinsic motivation.
- Pair content with movement, games, humor, emotion, skits, props, puppets, stuffed animals, music, rhyme, dance, celebration, emotion, controversy, oems, social interactions and funny voices. Be creative and have fun with it. You may just get a little shot of dopamine yourself - helping you to remember and do that again sometime!
How can learning experiences be designed to engage students and create the release of dopamine in an effort to "fix" memories?
Thoughts & Strategies
A "Fixed" Memory
Understanding the role that dopamine plays in the learning process (specifically memory and motivation) is the first step in learning how to use it to help students remember what you are trying to teach them. Simply stated, if they can't remember it, they haven't learned it. Dopamine is the "feel good - positive emotion" brain chemical and if we can structure learning experiences so that the release of dopamine is paired with a learning experience or content it is more likely to be recalled at a later date (a.k.a. it made it into long term memory). Watching this TEDx Talks video by Eric Marr made me remember one of my undergraduate anatomy and physiology classes. Just the one, I'm afraid to say… All the rest were completely forgettable because of how boring they were. Oh, I learned the content and got an A but it was not very enjoyable. Normally, we sat in a large lecture hall, the professor walked in, delivered the content with little or no interaction with the students and very little emotion then left shortly after class was over. One day things went very differently. He walked in dressed as if he were headed out on a Caribbean vacation, complete with shorts, a short sleeve palm tree print shirt, a camera and binoculars hanging around his neck. We were all in shock. He proceeded to take us on a trip through the circulatory system all while talking to his imaginary travel companion (his wife) in a very interesting voice. It was so novel and so funny that to this day I can conjure up the images in my mind and associate it with what I learned on that day. I'm not sure if he was thinking about dopamine when he did his lesson plans but he hit the mark. Too bad for us it was a one hit wonder.