Short breaks to learn better?

Short breaks to learn better?

Repeating the same procedures several times improves our learning. However, there is one variable that we don't usually take into consideration and that carries a lot of weight: breaks.

Short breaks to learn better?

Last update: October 02, 2021

Practice makes us masters. The idea of ​​a systematic, but sustained practice is deeply rooted in society, but the monotonous repetition of a task can be boring and even lead to the abandonment of the task. Is it really necessary to follow this model of education to learn better? And what about short breaks?



The answer is no. Short breaks have been shown to help you learn better and to consolidate skills during the learning process. The study that we will present in this article delves into this topic at an experimental level and from a neurological point of view.

Do short breaks help you learn better?

The learning path of a skill - such as riding a bicycle or playing the piano - is not based only on repetition, in which new neural connections are strengthened with each try, but requires consolidation. This process of stabilization of knowledge or skills occurs during brain rest.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Health in the United States found that when the brain is at rest it quickly and repeatedly reproduces the memories of the notions recently learned by the person.

The more the subject remembers what he learned during rest, the better his performance will be in subsequent sessions.

It is also noted that short breaks are part of learning new skills, and actually improve it. However, how is this possible in the brain? Here are the details of the study.


Features of the study

The team of researchers used a highly sensitive scanning technique, called magnetoencephalography, for record the brain waves of 33 healthy, right-handed volunteers.


The task was to write a five-digit test code with the left, or nondominant, hand to ensure that the task was new to the brain.

Participants were asked to enter the numeric code as many times as they could for 10 seconds, subsequently leaving another 10 seconds to rest. They repeated this cycle of practice and rest a total of 35 times, evaluating the learning curve during the process.

The results

During the first tests, the speed with which the subjects wrote the code improved considerably and then stabilized around the XNUMXth cycle.

The improvements were greatest after the short breaks rather than after a night's sleep. This suggests that during rest the brain puts together the memories needed to learn a new skill.

In addition to this, at the brain level, a correlation was found between the improvement in performance with a decrease in the amplitude of beta brain waves. To explore this, the doctors developed a computer program to observe brain activity in each of the practice cycles.

How do short breaks help the brain learn better?

The program showed brain activity was 20 times faster during the short breaks between trials, confirming the results. Being a motor task - writing numbers - brain activity occurred in the sensorimotor areas, but also in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex.


Although traditionally it was thought that these latter structures did not play a very relevant role in procedural memory, today it is known that they interact with the sensorimotor cortex during the process.


Therefore, yes. Short breaks help the brain learn better, and the relationship has good predictive power: the subjects who repeated the exercise mentally in the pauses were the ones who later learned the ability to write with the non-dominant hand faster.


Short breaks to consolidate learning

Overall, the study results support the idea that introducing short breaks during the learning process in a controlled way is a good way to consolidate memories in the context of learning.

The applications of these results are heterogeneous: they range from improving learning techniques in the classroom to shortening training times in companies.


Also, in situations where learning time goes against the person, such as strokes, speeding up the process can be really beneficial.

The study authors also suggested to apply short breaks also to the neuropsychologic rehabilitationa, so that it can become a positive factor in recovering from brain damage.

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