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Brain and learning in adolescence

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearch

  • Christian Gerlach, Denmark
  • Karen Evans, Institute of Education, University of London, UK, Denmark
  • Learning Lab Denmark
The brain consists of a vast amount of cells, or neurons, which constitute the basic operative unit in the brain. During the period of the highest prenatal brain development (10 - 26 weeks after conception), it is estimated that the brain grows at a rate of 250,000 neurons per minute. At birth the brain contains the majority of the cells it will ever have with estimates ranging from 15 - 32 billions. This span does not only reflect that cell counting is imprecise but also that the number of cells varies considerably from person to person. After birth new neurons are only produced in limited numbers. The by far most conspicuous changes in the brain following birth occur in the connections between neurons; new ones are formed and old ones are either strengthened or eliminated. And there is plenty of room for change given that any particular neuron is often connected with several thousand other neurons. For a long time it was assumed that such changes primarily happened in childhood because the brain is already 90 percent of the adult size by the age of six. Today this belief has clearly changed. It is now evident that the brain undergoes significant changes throughout life. In this writing we will focus on the neural changes that occur during adolescence; a period that roughly spans from 12 to 18 years. It will be examined how these neural changes relate to the significant behavioural changes that also occur during adolescence and which include altered affective regulation, risk-taking behaviour, decision-making abilities and development of independence. The ultimate objective will be to consider what implications these developmental changes have for learning, teaching and education. Before we embark on this we will provide some background knowledge on brain development at both the microscopic (neuron) and macroscopic (brain system) level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding the Brain : The Birth of a Learning Science
Number of pages25
PublisherOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development:Centre for Educational Research and Innovation
Publication year2007
ISBN (print)978-92-64-02912-5
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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