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Why Holistic Learning is important: What the research shows


  • Hormones and neurotransmitters provide a constant communication between the mind and body so that our mental state and our physical state are inextricably linked.

  • The more sensory stimulation we receive, the more neural connections are formed, improving the organisation and functional activity of the brain and helping to form long lasting memories, which can be recalled easily when necessary.

  • Physical movement increases the oxygenation of the brain and the production of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor – essential for neural development) for improved cognitive processing, memory, and recall.

  • Physical exercise strengthens the cerebellum which is directly linked to the parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, cognitive processing, and problem-solving.

  • We use more parts of our brain and create a “mental web” of information when we look for or discover answers for ourselves rather than being given information, helping us to store, retrieve, and use what we have learnt more effectively.

  • “Neurons that are fired together are wired together”– when different experiences occur together, the neural pathways for these are physically connected in our brain, for example we may connect a particular emotion with a particular situation.

  • The brain doesn't distinguish between real or imagined activity so just by imagining or visualising doing something we can create the same physical changes in the brain as if we were doing it for real.

  • Emotions help us to perceive an experience or information as meaningful so that the brain focuses on it, organises it, and remembers it. Positive emotions help us to form strong memories which we can easily retrieve and put into practice.

  • The limbic system deals with both emotions and memory. When we experience a positive emotional state such as excitement, joy or pleasure, the neural signals from the heart to the brain increase our ability to think, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions (conversely, when we experience stress or negative emotions such as anger, fear or guilt, our heart signals reinforce these negative emotions and inhibit our cognitive functioning).

  • Our brains work best when we are socially connected and have meaningful interactions with others. The reward centre of the brain is activated and gives us more pleasure when we do something to help others than when we do or receive something for ourselves.

  • When we experience social pain such as rejection, our brain registers it as real pain and it interferes with our ability to learn. When we feel understood and connected to others, we have greater feelings of well being and lower stress, which enables us to learn better.

  • When we play and have fun our brain releases dopamine (which makes us feel good, gives us more energy, and improves our memory, attention and motivation), endorphins (which aid learning by making us happier and more relaxed), and BDFN,which improves our perception, reasoning, problem solving and memory.

  • The cerebral cortex (responsible for thinking, perceiving, processing and problem-solving) is more highly developed when our senses are stimulated and we have opportunities to play.

  • We have evolved to function best in nature-rich surroundings and being connected to nature improves cognitive function, memory, creativity and problem-solving ability.

  • Our brain is an electrochemical, neuronal network which observes, encodes, and identifies perceived patterns. These processes work better when we identify patterns in our lives and seek meaning in them.

  • Activities which take us outside our own conscious processes, such as meditation and mindfulness have a positive effect on the brain including increasing the amount of grey matter and enhancing the connectivity between different brain regions.



  • Neuroscience for Learning & Development Stella Collins (Kogan Page)

  • How the Brain Learns David A Sousa (Corwin)

  • The Learning Brain Eric Jensen (Turning Point)

  • A History of the Senses Diane Ackerman (Vintage)

  • This is Your Brain on Music Daniel Levitin (Atlantic Books)

  • The Biological Mind: How brain, body and environment collaborate to make us who we are Alan Jasanoff (Basic Books)

  • Manual of Learning Styles Honey & Mumford

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck (Random House)

  • Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart L Brown (Avery)

  • Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality, Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan (Collins)

  • Fresh Thinking in Learning & Development: Neuroscience and learning Dr Paul Howard-Jones and Dr John McGurk (CIPD)


  • Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, 2012

  • Neuroplasticity: changes in grey matter induced by training Draganski, Gaser, Busch, & Schuierer, 2004

  • Creating visual explanations improves learningEliza Bobekand Barbara Tversky, 2016

  • Benefits of multi-sensory learning Ladan Shams and Aaron R Seitz, 2008

  • The Impact of Physical Movement on Academic Learning, Kristy N. Ford 2016

  • Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness, Hormones and Behaviour, Zak, P. J., Kurzban, R., Matzner, W. T. (2005)

  • The Effects of Acute Physical Exercise on Memory, Peripheral BDNF, and Cortisol in Young Adults, Kirsten Hötting et al (2016)

  • Concrete processing of action metaphors: Evidence from ERP, Vicky T. Lai, Olivia Howerton, and Rutvik H.Desai(2019)

  • From mental power to muscle power -gaining strength by using the mind, Ranganathan et al (2004)

  • Emotional Rescue: The Heart-Brain Connection, Michael Miller (2019)

  • The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory, Chai M. Tyng et al (2017)

  • Storytelling Is Intrinsically Mentalistic: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Narrative Production across Modalities. Steven Brown (2018)

  • Education and the social brain, Matthew D. Lieberman (2012)

  • The cognitive benefits of play: Effects on the learning brain, Gwen Dewar(2014)

  • Environmental enrichment and the brain, Marian Diamond et al (2002)

  • Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship, Ming Kuo, Michael Barnes, Catherine Jordan (2019)

  • Transformative Learning Theory and Spirituality: A Whole-Person Approach, Gary Piercy (2013)

  • Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density, BK Holza (2011)

  • Meditation Adapts the Brain to Respond Better to Feedback,Natasha Meredith (2018)

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