Finnish researchers are collaborating with international colleagues to help us understand how we learn.
HUMANITY has been learning from time immemorial. With ages of accumulated experience, one might think the art and science of erudition was well understood. But actually, we have a lot to learn about learning.
“We still do not know how people actually learn,” explains Jari Multisilta, the Director of Cicero Learning at the University of Helsinki. “The brain sciences can tell us how the human brain works, and it can also provide us new kinds of research and measuring tools, so that we could understand more about attention, for example.”
Cicero is an apt name, and it is an apt acronym. It stands for Cross-disciplinary Initiative for Collaborative Efforts of Research on Learning. Its namesake, the knowledgeable and influential Roman senator Marcus Tullius Cicero, brought together such fields as philosophy, political science and history in his writings. The modern-day network named after him does the same thing.
“We have researchers from behavioural sciences, brain sciences and technology, among others,” continues Multisilta. “It is important to bring researchers from different areas to solve problems of education. I think that researchers coming from different research backgrounds can solve the challenges we face with our education today.”
The members of Cicero Learning include Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, University of Lapland, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and University Consortium of Pori. It also builds cooperation with research groups and units around the world.
Brain, learning and education
One of the research focuses of the group is Brain, Learning and Education. Sometimes called educational neuroscience or neuroeducation, this field seeks to understand the biological, neural, philosophical, psychological and social processes of learning. University of Helsinki’s Teija Kujala is responsible for coordinating the research in this area.
She says: “Brain research carried out in Cicero Learning aims at determining neural mechanisms of learning and impaired neural processes which cause learning deficits, such as dyslexia and autism spectrum.
“Our studies have shed light on neural plasticity associated with language processing, for example, the effects of bilingualism on speech processing. Recently we acquired novel data on rapid automatic learning, suggesting that our brain constantly forms representations on novel spoken words. Thus, these studies have revealed both long-term learning effects as well as rapid learning mechanisms in the brain.”
Kujala says the dyslexia research undertaken by the group have shown a wide-spread auditory-phonetic discrimination deficit as well as impairments in audiovisual integration.
Cicero Learning Network
“We have shown that it is possible to improve the functioning of these neural processes with computer-based audiovisual intervention,” she continues. “Our results showed that these neural changes are accompanied by improved reading-related skills. Even a short training period, altogether three hours, improved these skills in preschool children.”
DAVID J. CORD
Pictures - VEIKKO SOMERPURO, HUMMER
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