53a. Brain-Based Learning by Eric Jensen

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Eric Jensen is a former teacher with a PhD in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University. In 1981, he co-founded "the United States' first and largest brain-compatible learning program"[1], and he has been the head of Jensen Learning, a company that trains teachers what he calls "brain-friendly" or "brain-compatible" teaching and learning principles, since 1995. Brain-Based Learning is one of the first books that I read as I was getting into finding out more about education research several years ago.

I am quite disappointed with this book. It's not very good. The problems with it are numerous.

Firstly, it does not appear to have any central guiding principles. Generally, a good book will give you ideas in the form of kernels which will be applicable in many situations, and it will show you how those central ideas operate so that you can understand their power and generality. In Brain-Based Learning, Jensen sets out what he wants to tell the reader as essentially a list. This makes it difficult to make head or tail of the book as a whole.

Secondly, there is a pervasive lack of references. This means that most of his assertions are stated just as bare-faced facts (with occasional "research has shown..." + random fact, which no reference), meaning that we are supposed to just take him on his word. In some cases, his references are highly dubious, such as when he cites a video produced by Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) inventor Richard Bandler as the only source for over a page of information and suggestions. NLP is generally understood by psychologists to have little scientific support (what science there is on it tends to show that it doesn't work), so this is obviously somewhat dubious.

Thirdly, most of his suggestions are obvious in the first place. When he suggests that children need good nutrition or that people need to be hydrated, who is he arguing against? Who didn't think that, or was unaware of that, in the first place? There is a sense in which he is using the idea that his approaches are "brain-based" to lend extra authority to his statements, but the statements themselves were often already well-known and widely accepted approaches prior to his advocacy for them.

There are many more criticisms that can be made of this book, and I do make them in the audio. I end up doing a mixture of pulling out the occasional interesting idea, enriching what he writes with context that actually makes it make sense, and pointing out the many places where his work is not useful, or is just confusing. I hope that, despite the rather negative nature of this episode, you will still find it worth listening to.

Enjoy the episode.

[1] Quoted from http://www.ascd.org/Publications/ascd-authors/eric-jensen.aspx on 9th January 2018.

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