What can medical education learn from the neurobiology of learning?

Acad Med. 2011 Apr;86(4):415-20. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31820dc197.


The last several decades have seen a large increase in knowledge of the underlying biological mechanisms that serve learning and memory. The insights gleaned from neurobiological and cognitive neuroscientific experimentation in humans and in animal models have identified many of the processes at the molecular, cellular, and systems levels that occur during learning and the formation, storage, and recall of memories. Moreover, with the advent of noninvasive technologies to monitor patterns of neural activity during various forms of human cognition, the efficacy of different strategies for effective teaching can be compared. Considerable insight has also been developed as to how to most effectively engage these processes to facilitate learning, retention, recall, and effective use and application of the learned information. However, this knowledge has not systematically found its way into the medical education process. Thus, there are considerable opportunities for the integration of current knowledge about the biology of learning with educational strategies and curricular design. By teaching medical students in ways that use this knowledge, there is an opportunity to make medical education easier and more effective. The authors present 10 key aspects of learning that they believe can be incorporated into effective teaching paradigms in multiple ways. They also present recommendations for applying the current knowledge of the neurobiology of learning throughout the medical education continuum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Fatigue / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neurobiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching / methods
  • Thinking / physiology