Brain-based Learning


This learning theory is based on the structure and function of the brain. As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning will occur.

Please note: since this article was published, Geoffrey and Renate Caine, leaders in brain-based learning research, have modified their principles on the topic. Please visit this Funderstanding article to learn about their updated views on brain based learning, which they are referring to as Brain/Mind Principles of Natural Learning.


People often say that everyone can learn. Yet the reality is that everyone does learn. Every person is born with a brain that functions as an immensely powerful processor. Traditional schooling, however, often inhibits learning by discouraging, ignoring, or punishing the brain’s natural learning processes.

The core principles of brain-based learning state that:

  1. The brain is a parallel processor, meaning it can perform several activities at once, like tasting and smelling.
  2. Learning engages the whole physiology.
  3. The search for meaning is innate.
  4. The search for meaning comes through patterning.
  5. Emotions are critical to patterning.
  6. The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously.
  7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.
  8. Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.
  9. We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.
  10. We understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory.
  11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.
  12. Each brain is unique.

The three instructional techniques associated with brain-based learning are:

  1. Orchestrated immersion–Creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience
  2. Relaxed alertness–Trying to eliminate fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment
  3. Active processing–Allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it

How Brain-Based Learning Impacts Education

Curriculum–Teachers must design learning around student interests and make learning contextual.

Instruction–Educators let students learn in teams and use peripheral learning. Teachers structure learning around real problems, encouraging students to also learn in settings outside the classroom and the school building.

Assessment–Since all students are learning, their assessment should allow them to understand their own learning styles and preferences. This way, students monitor and enhance their own learning process.


What Brain-Based Learning Suggests

How the brain works has a significant impact on what kinds of learning activities are most effective. Educators need to help students have appropriate experiences and capitalize on those experiences. As Renate Caine illustrates on p. 113 of her book Making Connections, three interactive elements are essential to this process:

  • Teachers must immerse learners in complex, interactive experiences that are both rich and real. One excellent example is immersing students in a foreign culture to teach them a second language. Educators must take advantage of the brain’s ability to parallel process.
  • Students must have a personally meaningful challenge. Such challenges stimulate a student’s mind to the desired state of alertness.
  • In order for a student to gain insight about a problem, there must be intensive analysis of the different ways to approach it, and about learning in general. This is what’s known as the “active processing of experience.”

A few other tenets of brain-based learning include:

Feedback is best when it comes from reality, rather than from an authority figure.

People learn best when solving realistic problems.

The big picture can’t be separated from the details.

Because every brain is different, educators should allow learners to customize their own environments.

The best problem solvers are those that laugh!

Designers of educational tools must be artistic in their creation of brain-friendly environments. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not through lecture, but by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely.

For more information about the Caines’ research on brain/mind principles of natural learning, please visit their website.


Renate and Geoffrey Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain.

Leslie Hart, Human Brain, Human Learning.


About the author -

On Purpose Associates

54 Responses to Brain-based Learning

  1. Desiree says:

    Thank you for summarizing a great deal of research into an easy to understand (and share) resource. This is great.

  2. aziz rehman says:

    HI SIR,

  3. A. E. Miller says:

    This was great at a glance, I am looking forward to exploring the site in further detail as time allows. I am using this information to train our EFL teachers, many of them first year teachers. They are amazed at the information about brain-based learning and research.

  4. Anshari Syafar says:

    Dear Sir,

    I wish i could help learners like what you do in this web site. I enjoy reading and learning information you provide here and it is very useful for me to learn new insights of learning theories.

    It is great help for learners. I respect your work.
    Thank you,

    Visiting Scholar

  5. lance says:

    I totally agree with brain based learning, there are many instances where the potential knowledge a student has is often neglected because of a standard curriculum that is supposed to teach multiple students at once. That is a very unproductive way of learning. Instructors should focus more on the individual talents that are innate than on overall encompassing curriculum.

  6. Debbie says:

    I think it is very important to remember that everyone learns in a different way. With this in mind being a teacher can sometimes be a challenge. However if we incorporate the different learning styles into our lessons we will see a change with our students and we will see how quickly they will learn the concept.

  7. mary bland says:

    As a strings teacher I am constantly searching for new and more efficient strategies to insure my students remember the “rudiments” such as rhythmic and fingering patterns.

  8. jenny says:

    Hi sir
    I had looked a lot for BBL and I found it very interesting its even very helpful to understand the learning pattern and can help with new ways of learning.

  9. Marlene Ellgass says:

    This was very interesting I do agree that every student learns in their own way, and that teachers have to teach in a way that it makes it interested to all students

  10. Prof. M.Sree Rama Murthy says:

    The idea is excellent. Individual differfences are referred in BBL and approaches suggested are productive. These ideas shall keep improving with the comments that are received by educationists. For example how to cater to childlren in a mass educational system, when the gap between slow and gifted learners is wide, etc. moderate and not much do we require anyh other treatment?

  11. Evelyn Gary says:

    I agree. I use brain based learning concepts in my classes for radiologic technology. I did not have the official terminology,but now I have an association with my teaching methodology.
    Thank you.

  12. Norma Terrigno says:

    I am very impressed by the way you have simplified a wealth of information that can be presented to teachers like mself in a manner that is practical. You have given ideas that many professionals have considered throughout the decades a place in education. Thank you for summarizing brilliant work put forth by scientists, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists so that teachers can perform with more competence!

  13. M Drago says:

    I was surprised by some of the BBL proncipes, and others made perfect sense to me. The four that I feel make an impact for me every day as a teacher are: 1. emotions are crtical to patterning
    2. learning is enhanced by challenge, inhibited by threat
    3. learning ivolves focused attention and peripheral perception
    4. each brain is unique

    I teach PE, and havea wide variety of students in any given class. Attempting to adress these 4 basic principles is a challenging task for me as a teacher, but I also think it is essential to providing each student the opportunity to truly learn and be successful.

  14. Pat Smtih says:

    I agree with core principals of bbl. Most teachers will agree that all students are unique and learn the same material differently. The four components that I responded to were:
    #4 meaning comes from patterning
    #6 brain processes whole and parts at the same time
    #9 two types of memory
    #12 unique brains

    These four components stood out for me because I am a special education teacher and a Wilson reading specialist. Patterns in spelling and memorizing phonic rules are large component in my lesson plans.

  15. Doug Shaw says:

    I am a high school teacher who needs to be reminded that while content is important, understanding the learning process is not for only elem. and MS teachers. I am struggling to find a way to embrace the concept that learners seek meaning through patterning and I am reminded of a quote by a Mortimer Adler at the Great Books Foundation: “Literature is highly patterned writing.” Looking at the way authors create meaning through patterns is an interesting formalist way to look at literature.
    Two ideas, that emotions are critical to patterning and that learning is enhanced by challenges and inhibited by threat go hand in hand, and have huge implications for assessments. Why the continued drive to high stakes assessments if we know that learners who are intimidated will not do their best work? I also wonder if emotional state plays a role in getting facts embedded into normal, spatial intelligence? It all seems connected.

  16. Chris Clausen says:

    The only word I can think of to describe what I just read is “DUH!”. This article could have been written (and probably was in some form or another) 20 years ago. Of course we know more now about how the brain works, but isn’t most, if not all, of this common sense? I feel like BBL is the latest “catch phrase” in education and is nothing new. We all should be doing this already! This was a very helpful summary, as I have heard my co workers talking about this and this article was the best comprehensive summary I could find. So thank you.

  17. Rekha says:

    I am a college lecturer,doing my Ph.D on brain based learning.I am very impressed by the way you have simplified a wealth of information that can be presented to teachers like me in a manner that is practical.I found it very interesting, its even very helpful to understand the learning pattern and can help with new ways of learning.This information helped me a lot, I understood more of the topic than before. it is very useful for me to learn new insights of learning theories.Thank you for summarizing a great deal of research .I appreciate your attempt from core of my heart.Thank you for the wonderful plethora of knowledge .
    Rekha,Ph.D (Ed) scholar,India

  18. Ninnie says:

    I’m just started doing my PhD in Brain-based learning. My focused area is about conscious and unconscious learning (principle no 8)in classroom because it has open my eyes on how learning is not just hearing what the teacher is saying but it’s more than that. It involves all kind of peripheral messages from the teacher and surrounding which will enhance learning. I would also like to link my research with principle no. 11 (Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat)if possible but I’m still doing the reading. I have read Caine & Caine, 12 Mind/Brain Learning Principles and it’s more or less the same as what was written above. Some how it’s a good information for those who are really keen about brain-based learning.
    Ninnie, Melbourne, Australia

  19. Estella Taylor says:

    Very interesting information, this has really helped me understand about our brain and its capacity to learn and retain information.

  20. Janet Jackson says:

    Brain based learning can be equivelant to transfer of learning. The teacher has to structure the cintents of the learning environment to the students pattern of learning. When the instructor performs assessments of the students performance, transfer of learning should take place; if not, then restructuring the content of the material to fit the students learning needs is evident.

  21. Norma Terrigno says:

    This article is extremely clear and helpful. More teachers must become aware of / sensitive to the individual style each person relates to for learning. Parents must be educated regarding the impportance of early exposure to differnt educational experiences. Schools must not only teach children, but reach out to entire families and communities. Information like this allow this factor to be stressed.

  22. Lucy says:

    I teach coping skills to adult students in a recovery center. Any tecniques you can offer to better teach these students would be Appreciated.
    Thank you

  23. Marylou says:

    I am a graduate student in Instructional Design and Technology at Walden University, researching websites about types of learning as an assignment. You have so much good information in this site and one thing came to mind – I wonder why there is no mention of past experiences influencing the learning. Did I miss that? Is it embedded in some of the points? Since I am not a teacher by trade so I know that much of what I read may make more sense if I did have that background – hence my query about background not being a prominent point about brain-based learning.

  24. khawla hasanain says:

    Thank you
    This article is very helpful.
    I’m just started doing my PhD in curriculum based on brain research.
    It talks about the principles and uses strategies in a purposeful way. This path is all about an educator who understands the reasoning behind their teaching. It is also one who stays constantly updated through continuous professional development.

  25. Norma Terrigno says:

    You are absolutely correct to consider the role of past memories/experiences and their role regarding the process of learning. You did NOT miss something. Positive versus negative associations will certainly trigger progress or regression. In teaching we must consider cultural aspects of extreme importance along with the other factors that we already know like health, birth order, anxiety level, and so on. For some reason researchers have not targeted past experiences as they have the other factors, but, like you I agree on the influence experiences have in enhancing such areas as motivation and self esteem.

  26. Karen says:

    Very informative….I have gained much insight about brain-based learning and will definitely continue to incorporate strategies to help students in my classroom.

  27. warren says:

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been awake at since 3:30 a.m. with thoughts of our faculty meeting the day before rolling around in my head. I need this info to share with teachers, but also strategies for they can do to help the kids with basic math and reading skills. This gives me a start.

  28. ruth s. ibo says:

    thank you for bringing this article into your website. It helps a lot giving me knowledge which is very helpful into my research work. My research is about factors affecting the academic performance in geometry of the secondary high school in public school.God bless and more power!

  29. Ruth F says:

    Very useful information. It is important to know how the brain works when planning lessons and figuring out how to most effectively teach.The Brain-Based learning theory supports the importance of teaching to all the modalities. Having students use all of their senses when engaging in learning. And in addition, the importance of being mindful of the environment that is provided when teaching, and also the emotional state of the student.

  30. latika says:

    This validates what I have been doing in my classes on Educational philosophy and psychology in the pursuit of making content relevant to the contexts of the students. Brain based Learning at Higher Education and teacher education level is very significant as we are sending decision making adults out there to impact our future lives.

  31. latika says:

    This clear and precise article will be very helpful for students of education.Its time that teachers teaching in classes dominated by textbook and examination criteria are given in- service courses on BBL to improve learning outcomes of students.

  32. maureen says:

    This is very interesting and sometimes as educators we may forget that different approaches are necessary. For example the fact that the brain is a parallel processor enables students to learn vocabulary through music. The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously allows us to visually break down information for our students. We have to remember each brain is unique when planning for all of our students.

  33. Week 2 | rockybwaldenu says:

    […] Brain-based learning is based on the structure and function of the brain (“Brain-based learning,” 2008).  Learning will occur as long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes.  The core principles of brain-based learning state (“Brain-based learning,” 2008) : […]

  34. Anita says:

    Learning outcome enhances when learner participates in the learning environment, thus BBL emphasizes on significance of learning Context which is essential for learning.

  35. Chiranjit Mukherjee says:


  36. Ana I. Solis says:

    A Brain-Based approach to teaching, in its strongest dose, will address deficiencies in failing schools, if applied conscientiously; with a firm commitment, from everyone who values the education of students in their community, to satisfy their brain learning needs. With a humble professional attitude, where being a learner resides in the educator’s heart above that of being a teacher, educators will undoubtedly, and effectively, affect the downward spiral of any failing school, attaining the expected and desired “whole person” student success through the implementation of Brain Based Learning.

    Ana Solis – soon to graduate BA Soc Sci +Edu
    Ashford University

    • Viviene Gauntlett says:

      I am very intrigued with BBL and wholeheartedly agree with its basic principles. As an educator who embrace the phiolosophy that every child can learn, it will assist me in finding innovative ways to ensure that all my students learn. It is also very much alive in the Arts especially Drama and works well with the constructive learning theory.

  37. kmay says:

    I have a few questions regarding brain funtions!
    As I was reading your article these questions came to me and was wondering if you would be able to elaborate on these questions I have… Thank you indvance for the insiteful information. I think this information presented on this page was great it allowed me to think…..
    How does learning begin with brain functions?

    How does learning culminate in memory and language?

    How does learning begin with sensory experiences?

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