The Great Degeneration

11th October 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, by Niall Ferguson.  One experience that struck Barb when she worked as a translator on Soviet trawlers was just how easy it was to convince people to go along with certain ideas, no matter how bizarre they might be. Once you get enough people thinking in the same way, that’s enough to get them to blithely hurdle themselves, lemming-like, off a societal cliff.  

Ferguson’s book is a prescient reminder of how countries get themselves into terrible trouble when society turns a blind eye to profligate overspending. In 2010, Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and Jennifer Dorn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Academy of Public Administration, jointly wrote: “Much is at stake. If we as a nation do not grapple promptly and wisely with the changes needed to put the federal budget on a sustainable course, all of us will find that the public goals we most value are at risk.” (See also Pathological Altruism and “Concepts and implications of altruism bias and pathological altruism.”)

Ferguson’s book gives an overview of a future that could still be changed through the will of a well-educated populace. 

MOOC of the Month: Hacking Exercise for Health

Getting fit is confusing.  Who can you believe when there are so many “experts”? What’s the right mix of exercise between cardio and strength? How do you know if you’re working out hard enough? What’s better, heavy or light weights? These questions and more are addressed through a new course offered by world-renowned exercise physiologists Martin Gibala and Stuart Phillips of McMaster University. Stu and Marty will offer insight and evidence into the surprising new science of cardio fitness and strength-building—and then provide you with hacks to get fit and strong (and healthy!) virtually anywhere and in less time than you ever thought possible. Sign up for the course here! (Barb & her hero hubby Phil are currently part way through this fantastic course, and loving it!)

Coursera just launched “Coursera for Campus”

Coursera’s fantastic new program is explained in the first hour of this video. Basically, ANY campus can use Coursera for Campus to meld together with their learning management system to create courses for a far broader pool of students than the university has normally ever reached—including alumni, staff, and of course, students. Universities that prosper in the future will be those that use tools like Coursera for Campus to build their outreach to the tremendous pool of older students who desire training and retraining.

How to RE-LEARN how to learn

When Barb was at Weber State in Ogden, Utah recently (a shoutout for their vision regarding the online world!), she was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Scott Moore. His story is incredible—here it is in his own words.

“I was at the top of my game; an ironman triathlete and straight A student in medical school serving in the Air Force. It was all taken away in an instant. CRASH! After waking up from a coma a month and a half later, I found out that I was hit by a car on my bicycle and was lucky to be alive. My heart was beating, I was breathing, my wounds were healing, but some injuries take years to repair. To best analogize my brain injury; imagine standing in front of a perfectly-functioning switchboard and then pulling all the wires out. Does the switchboard still have all of its parts? Yes. Does it work? No. All the hardware is still there, but nothing is connected anymore. A similar thing happened in my brain as the neurons and axons were separated. I had forgotten nearly everything! In order to go back to med school, I first needed to pass Step 2 of the US Medical Licensing Exam. It was slow re-learning at first, but through dedication, and laser-like focus, I passed the exam on the first try a year after my accident.

“Even though I passed the exam and was back in school, I still couldn’t speak comfortably with people. I heard about Learning how to Learn, which intrigued me. The educational strategies that I regained, helped me to learn at an accelerated rate as my brain was recovering and the synapses were reforming. More interestingly though, Learning How to Learn shares evidence-based lifestyle habits that are not-so-apparent contributors to education. Through much of my own research and personal experience, I have been able to verify the truth of these beneficial lifestyle patterns. Learning How to Learn has given me a renewed desire to ensure that I get a full night’s sleep, continue to exercise, and eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. The learning strategies and lifestyle tips that are introduced in Learning How to Learn, have enabled me to achieve successes that I had not previously imagined. I was able to regain my ability to speak cohesive sentences, think clearly, graduate from medical school, get a spot in a competitive pathology residency program, and eventually become an Assistant Professor of Medical Laboratory Sciences teaching clinical chemistry at my alma mater. I will be forever grateful to Barb and Terry for creating Learning How to Learn and helping me re-learn how to learn. This knowledge is truly empowering and encouraged me to create the physiologic environment best suited for learning.”

Remodeling the Brain after InjuryLearning Makes a World of Difference

Here is a wonderful paper by researchers Jeffrey Kleim and Teresa Jones, “Principles of Experience-Dependent Neural Plasticity: Implications for Rehabilitation After Brain Damage” that reaffirms Dr. Moore’s personal experiences. As the key graf notes:

“Neuroscience research has made major advances in understanding the brain, but we are far from understanding brain circuitry at the level needed to place new neurons and neural connections in just the right places to restore a lost function. Fortunately, there is another way to create functionally appropriate neural connections. We can capitalize upon the way the brain normally does this—that is, via learning. There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the brain continuously remodels its neural circuitry in order to encode new experiences and enable behavioral change… Research on the neurobiology of learning and memory suggests that, for each new learning event, there is some necessary and sufficient change in the nervous system that supports the learning… This neuroplasticity is, itself, driven by changes in behavioral, sensory, and cognitive experiences. In our view, this endogenous process of functionally appropriate reorganization in healthy brains is also the key to promoting reorganization of remaining tissue in the damaged brain. This approach of using the process of learning, alone and in combination with other therapies, to promote adaptive neural plasticity is a growing focus of research….”

Barb at the Fire Festival in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Here’s Barb speaking of learning, and creating great online learning materials, after spending 40 hours in airports and on planes. Can you tell she is actually a walking zombie?

Kazakhstana Place of Burgeoning Edtech

Here’s a nice article in the Astana Times about Barb’s fantastic recent trip to Kazakhstan under the auspices of EdGravity and She’s in Spain for the coming month, enjoying the great people and awesome food!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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