In school or during professional life, successful learning can be assessed best by investigating how fast and how much of the learned material can be remembered correctly and transferred into actions. Remembering learned material, however, is dependant on that material (knowledge of facts or behaviours) successfully finding its way into the long term memory and being consolidated there. Several studies have shown that parts of the medial temporal lobe, especially the hippocampal region, belong to the most important brain structures involved in consolidation. But frontal neocortical regions like the basal ganglia are also important for the long term memorisation of learned things. However, the exact brain mechanisms, the neuronal activities and conditions that underlie successful memory consolidation, are as yet unclear.
This question is being assessed in several research projects at the Transfer Center, with neuroimaging methods on the one side and behavioural studies on the other. For the fMRI studies, specially designed memory tasks will be used. The behavioural studies will take place in schools, where students of different educational levels will be asked to learn certain material and all students will take part in the same learning session.
Immediately following the learning session, memory performance will be tested with a written exam. Memory is consolidated in the brain by a process that follows learning, so in order to investigate the effects of different situations on this process, students will next be separated into three groups (A, B, and C). Every group will be exposed to a different situation: group A will watch an exciting movie, group B will do arithmetic work sheets, and group C will relax with easy physical exercises. After 45 minutes, learning performance will be tested again. A week later, a third test will assess how much has been remembered. The individual differences in test performance are to show which situations enhance or hinder the consolidation process. Altogether, three sessions will be run in order to have every group subjected to every one of the three situations.
The results of these research projects will contribute to the understanding of brain mechanisms in life long learning, as well as contributing to the development of practical approaches for improving teaching and learning strategies in schools.