Synapse Schema

Neurons generate electrical signals that travel along their axons. When a pulse of electricity reaches a junction called a synapse, it causes a neurotransmitter chemical to be released, which binds to receptors on other cells and thereby alters their electrical activity.

Developing learners’ cognitive capacities to confront and resolve real-life, cross-disciplinary situations is a key goal of educational research (National Research Council, 2005). Cognitive function has also been a central issue in neuroscience, which examines the complexity of human perception, cognition, emotion, and action based on the neural activity of brain cells.

Human brain consists of about 100 billion neurons. Information is transmitted from neuron to neuron via electrical signals passing through the axons and generating the release of chemical neurotransmitters from the neural connectors called synapses. Analysis of the patterns of neural activity allows scientists to map brain functions associated with performing a variety of tasks. The resulting knowledge of the neural structures that underlie macro-level processes, such as perception, attention, cognition, and learning, can be of interest to learning scientists.

Since The Decade of the Brain 1990-2000, the study of the brain has been driven by substantial government investments, which resulted in the development of new methods and technologies (e.g., brain-computer interfaces) and research “collaboratories” like the Japan-U.S. Brain Research Cooperative Program and the European Union’s Promemoria Consortium. The membership of the Society of Neuroscience has doubled in the past 20 years, with many of the new members representing fields outside of neuroscience, such as psychology, education, and human factors.

Neural functions are fundamental to attention, cognition, and learning. Although tremendous progress has been made in neuroscience in the past two decades, its applications in learning sciences are just beginning to be realized.