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The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain

reviewed by Pavlo Antonenko - September 19, 2019

coverTitle: The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain
Author(s): Terry Doyle & Todd D. Zakrajsek
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620366576, Pages: 188, Year: 2018
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Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek’s book on the new science of learning arrives at a time when educators are excited about the potential of “brain-based learning” to enhance instruction and researchers in the behavioral and social sciences are debating the implications of neuroscience for education. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain is written from an enthusiastic perspective. The authors celebrate the recent advancements in cognitive, affective, and social neuroscience and discuss a number of seminal findings to demonstrate how our understanding of brain function and cognitive processing can help college and university students (the book’s primary audience) transform their habits and approaches to learning, working, and living. Commendably, the authors achieve this goal without falling into the trap of neuromyths that have permeated the educational blogosphere and social media (e.g., we only use 10% of our brain).


The book relates a number of complex concepts and research findings in neuroscience, cognitive and educational psychology, exercise science, and physiology to postsecondary students in nine short chapters, some more comprehensive than others. The authors introduce the notion of “the new science of learning,” providing compelling examples for why college students should pay attention to what we know about brain function and explaining how they can optimize their lives to learn and work better. Many of the insights that are used in the book to define and describe the new science of learning, such as the distributed practice effect or the emphasis on the transfer of learning as a key outcome of education, were actually generated by psychologists who theorize about the mind, memory, and attention. However, these psychology insights are strengthened using relevant evidence from neuroscience (e.g., using the research on long-term potentiation to explain the beneficial effects of distributed practice on memory and learning). Importantly, the reader learns early in the book that college success doesn’t depend as much on “being smart” as it does on learning how to be an effective learner.


The basic premise underlying the new science of learning is that we should understand how our body and brain work and organize our educational experiences around the optimal functioning of human physiology. The chapters in the first half of the book address the importance of preparing your brain and your body for learning. This includes ensuring proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise. Practical recommendations that the authors provide for students are supported with research evidence reported in peer-reviewed journals and discussed in interviews and blogs by well-respected organizations and individuals. The advice the authors offer is practical in the sense that they recognize the challenges college students experience when planning their lives, including class schedules imposed by educational institutions, difficulties maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits while living in a dorm with roommates, and limited time and access to fitness facilities. Helpful guidelines are provided for breaking up a busy day of school work with time for socializing and nutrition, building a quick nap into the afternoon schedule, and creating opportunities for exercise to re-energize the body. Given that many college students are athletes (broadly conceived) and are interested in sports, the authors make clever use of sports metaphors and examples. For instance, they compare academic performance and achievement to the notion of “peak performance” used in athletic competition. If we work hard to nourish and train our bodies to improve our athletic performance, shouldn’t we work just as hard to support the optimal functioning of our brains to enhance our academic skills and performance?


The chapters in the second half of the book are devoted to the patterns and strategies we should use to process information and learn efficiently and effectively. These chapters are written from a cognitive perspective and focus on how information is encoded, stored, and recalled, how our memory systems work, and what it means to pay attention during learning, discern patterns, and develop better learning strategies. An important point that Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek make early in the introduction and reinforce throughout the book is that academic learning is often difficult and effortful. We deal with an avalanche of multimedia and multimodal information on a daily basis, and when this is combined with the information literacy required to select only the most credible and relevant information and the diverse teaching styles of faculty members, it is easy to develop anxiety towards learning new and complex content and skills. On top of all this, the distractions introduced by the devices and social media we use further complicate things for learners. The authors of The New Science of Learning acknowledge these challenges and address the notion of multitasking to quickly but powerfully convey to the reader that our cognitive system does not support multitasking and that we should learn to exercise effortful control of our attention during learning. The book covers a number of strategies to improve cognition and attention, including developing a growth mindset toward learning, elaboration techniques to support self-regulation of learning, integrating mindfulness and meditation in daily routine, and, perhaps most importantly, taking responsibility for one’s own learning. These insights are supported by decades of research in cognitive and educational psychology as well as neuroscience, and while they are not new, the authors’ accomplishment is in the way they have packaged these research findings and communicated them as easy-to-follow guidelines.


Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek’s book on the new science of learning is written for today’s college students, who are faced with a number of cognitive, social, and emotional challenges as they navigate the complex and dynamic world of higher education. In Chapter Nine, “A Message from the Authors,” the authors conclude, “the basic finding that we have reinforced throughout this book is that the one who does the work does the learning.” This powerful message will resonate with every teacher and should become a motto for every learner. Using the insights from The New Science of Learning, college students will learn to take care of their brain and body as they work toward achieving their academic goals.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 19, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23098, Date Accessed: 5/22/2022 9:58:09 PM

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About the Author
  • Pavlo Antonenko
    University of Florida
    E-mail Author
    PAVLO "PASHA" ANTONENKO is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida. He is the Director of the Neuroscience Applications for Learning (NeurAL) Lab at the University of Florida where he works with his students and colleagues to study the neurodynamics of cognitive, emotional, and social engagement during technology-assisted learning.
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