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Sioux Falls Atheists endorse The Learning Brain for showing us
 in-depth and surprising lessons on how the brain learns and remembers.

The Learning Brain
Lectures by Professor Thad A. Polk

The Learning Brain (2018)
24 lectures, 12 hours
The Learning Brain at

One of the most complicated and advanced computers on Earth can’t be purchased in any store. This astonishing device, responsible for storing and retrieving vast quantities of information that can be accessed at a moment’s notice, is the human brain. How does such a dynamic and powerful machine make memories, learn a language, and remember how to drive a car? What habits can we adopt to learn more effectively throughout our lives? And how do factors like traumatic injuries, stress, and mood affect our grey matter? The answers to these questions are merely the tip of the iceberg in The Learning Brain.

These 24 half-hour lectures offer in-depth and surprising lessons on how the brain learns and remembers. You begin your journey by focusing on which parts of the brain are responsible for different kinds of memory, from long-term memory for personal experiences and memorized facts to short-term memory, and how these memory systems work on a psychological and biological level. You’ll acquire a new understanding of how amnesia, aging, and sleep affect your brain. You’ll also discover better ways to absorb and retain all kinds of information in all stages of life. This course is chock full of valuable information whether you’re learning a new language at 60 or discovering calculus at 16. If you need better study habits, struggle with learning a new skill, or just worry about memories fading with age, The Learning Brain provides illuminating insights and advice.

Map Your Brain’s Memory Areas

You’ll discover that the brain acquires, retains, and recalls information in several distinct ways.

  • Explicit Learning refers to learning information that is consciously available and can be put into words. One example is “semantic memory,” which involves impersonal fact-based memories, such as the distance from the Earth to the sun or the capitals of different nations.
  • Implicit Learning, by contrast, is learning that is unconscious and harder to put into words. One particularly important type of implicit learning is “procedural learning,” which is the learning of new skills such as playing the piano or playing golf.

As you learn new information and skills, you also put your working memory to use. Working memory is the cognitive system we use to hold on to information for just a few seconds or minutes at a time. For example, adding two two-digit numbers in your head or remembering the next step of a recipe while preparing a meal both utilize working memory.

While distinguishing the different learning systems that we use every day, Professor Polk also explains which regions of the brain underlie these various functions. Scientists use modern technology like fMRI and PET scans to see which parts of the brain are activated during different types of learning. By mapping out the brain in this way, doctors can isolate and treat brain damage, specific learning disabilities, and behavioral anomalies better than ever before.

Tackle Sensitive Psychological Issues

Specific learning disabilities are also common in children around the globe, and they can be detrimental as well as disheartening. Professor Polk covers a number of both common and lesser-known roadblocks to learning that result from these impairments. While primarily focusing on dyslexia, Professor Polk discusses how learning disabilities affect children in school and how such disabilities are manifested in the brain.

Can learning sometimes be more harmful than helpful? The answer is yes. While Professor Polk delves more deeply into bad habits with his previous course, The Addictive Brain, here he briefly covers the effects of addictive substances on your brain and how drugs of abuse can hijack the very mechanisms that allow us to learn so effectively. Specifically, all addictive drugs lead to the release of abnormal amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which fools the brain into reinforcing drug-taking behavior, even though it’s harmful. With repeated drug use, this reinforcement can lead to irresistible cravings and to the downward spiral of harmful behavior associated with addiction.

Professor Polk presents the latest scientific evidence on these conditions. You’ll find a cornucopia of valuable information to better educate yourself, whether you or a loved one struggles with a learning-related problem, or whether you’re simply seeking to better understand how the brain works.

Dr. Thad A. Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Computer Science and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Polks teaching - on topics ranging from the human mind and brain to cognitive psychology - has been recognized with numerous awards, including being named to The Princeton Review’s list of the Best 300 Professors in the United States. He is also a frequent visiting scientist at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

24 Lectures - 31 minutes each

1: Learning 101 13: Strategies for Effective Skill Learning
2: What Amnesia Teaches Us about Learning 14: Learning Bad Habits: Addiction
3: Conscious, Explicit Learning 15: Introduction to Working Memory
4: Episodic Memory and Eyewitness Testimony 16: Components of Working Memory
5: Semantic Memory 17: The Neural Basis of Working Memory
6: The Neural Basis of Explicit Learning 18: Training Your Working Memory
7: Strategies for Effective Explicit Learning 19: How Motivation Affects Learning
8: Controversies in Explicit Learning Research 20: How Stress and Emotion Affect Learning
9: Unconscious, Implicit Learning 21: How Sleep Affects Learning
10: The Psychology of Skill Learning 22: How Aging Affects Learning
11: Language Acquisition 23: Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities
12: The Neural Basis of Implicit Learning 24: Optimizing Your Learning


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The Learning Brain
Lectures by Professor Thad A. Polk

Sioux Falls Atheists endorse The Learning Brain for showing us
in-depth and surprising lessons on how the brain learns and remembers.