Perception and Learning

By Mark Schier, Senior Lecturer in Physiology at Swinburne University of Technology.

Perception is one of those things that we all do almost 100% of our waking hours, yet we still have difficulty defining it.   For some, it means the way we interpret sensory information while for others it is how we imagine the future or the images that we can form in our minds.

Perception is separate to sensation, and in fact the disciplines that consider it are broad and include sensory neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and theology.

In this blog, I will approach the subject from a sensory sciences perspective which is my background. Here we measure from neurons and receptors despite the fact that they only reveal a small part of the way we interact with the world around us. We can measure the sensory thresholds required to generate action potentials and find that they are generally consistent and reproducible. However, just because our nervous system has responded, it does not mean we are consciously aware of the stimulus.

Generally, you are not aware of the tendons and nerves in your arms and legs, but your brain and motor systems have this information ready in case you need to move. Movement requires a thorough knowledge of where you currently are and where you want to be, so that the muscle movements can be carefully choreographed and executed. Take a moment now, close your eyes, concentrate and note the angle of your elbow on your left hand. Now open your eyes and check it out – pretty good, yes? But knowing the angle consciously is not always helpful. When we make certain movements, there is benefit in leaving them alone and not trying to control them consciously – any racquet-sport player will tell you that you cannot hit well when trying to control your stroke. The best ones are practised, practised and learned as motor memory.

In terms of applying these ideas to learning, there are some concepts that are best acquired through rehearsal: skills for typing, solving maths equations, finding patterns, learning anatomical terms, and coding computer languages are just a few examples of these. We should not only look for new ways of learning, but new tools and techniques to reinforce the acquisition of knowledge. For example:

  • VR and AR for exploring and practising motor based skills;
  • gaming for strong rehearsal of factual concepts;
  • music and singing for learning of important (but sometimes boring) data; and
  • role playing for generalising concepts

I’m speculating that some of you in the ASCILITE community have examples from your own work and it could be interesting if this work were presented at the annual conference, in the AJET journal, as webinar topics and of course in this blog.:

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