Motivation, Cognitive Sciences and Experiential Learning

  1. Motivation

Hmmm….  Interesting that my week where my blog posts are late is the week to talk about motivation…

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough.  My neck started bothering me a lot, so it was hard to use the computer much, but I’ll admit, I’ve also been having a bit of a lack of motivation lately!  Not just for this course, but for everything!

After watching “The Puzzle of Motivation” TED talk with Dan Pink, I kind of wonder if I might realize why I started to feel this way…

Firstly, I guess let’s go to overall motivation.  I generally have not ever been someone who liked writing.  I love to read (there are 9 bookshelves in my room), but writing…  it’s never something that held a lot of appeal for me, so the lack of intrinsic motivators that Dan Pink talks about seems to be quite lacking for me with writing.  On the other hand, I am quite motivated to learn about education and see if my own ideas about it are consistent with those that are commonly regarded, so perhaps there exists a bit of intrinsic motivation there?

That brings me to my second point, which is about what Dan Pink described as the Carrot vs the Stick.  The central tenet of his ideas seems to be the “True Fact” that incentives or punishments are not effective in getting people to complete tasks, unless they are relatively simple ones that do not involve much creativity.  The funny thing for me was that as I was listening to the talk, what came into my head was the idea that this apparently ineffective concept is actually being partly applied in this course, in the sense that there is no marking punishment for late assignments, but that the apparent punishment is that no feedback is given either.

I guess that on reflection, the fact that incentives do not really serve to motivate is not that big of a surprise to me.  As Dan Pink said, we know this in our hearts, that the science is actually true.  I always used to be more successful in studying things that were of interest to me, even if they were considered harder, than things that were of little interest to me.  I’m kind of lucky, in a sense, in that I feel like I am someone who likes to learn, but the methodology also has an impact on this, naturally.  This will probably lead into future blog posts.  My takeaway from this is that if I have the opportunity to teach, I’m going to try to impart some enthusiasm for the subject into people somehow, and not focus on punishments or incentives, but incentives for simple things, such as just coming to class for attendance, may still be effective.

Pink, D. (Speaker). (2009, August 25th).  TED Talks. The Puzzle of Motivation. Retrieved from



2) Cognitive Learning

Memory.  It is an essential part of being able to live life well, and it is probably either the first or second-most important of the declining body processes as we get older.  Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body disease, cerebrovascular disease…. these all have the potential to interfere with our memory, not to mention stress, depression, mental health disorders, concussions, brain injury….

So, we have a lot of ways to lose memory, but how do we gain memories?  Memories, according to the Crash Course Psychology YouTube broadcast, from a summation of earlier research, involves encoding, short-term memory, and long-term memory.  Short-term memory is only meant to involve about 30 seconds of recall, and often involves shallow processing, whereas deeper processing is required for long-term storage.  The difference between the two are dependent on whether a deeper meaning connection is made between the information or not, whereas the shallow processing is merely about basic sense input, such as sight, sound, etc.

Recall from long-term memory often involves cues to be presented, which then trigger the recall of the full memory.  An example in the video of this is that returning to the room where the thought originated will often cause someone to remember what they intended prior to getting distracted.

These videos do not directly discuss why memory tends to worsen with age, but from a medical perspective, it all has to do with brain cells (neurons) getting damaged.  However, there has been some limited research that shows that repetitive use of the brain can help to prevent dementia, in the form of mental exercises, such as crossword puzzles.

Mayo Clinic Staff.  Dementia Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved from

Green, H. (2014, May 5th).  CrashCourse. How We Make Memories.  Retrieved from


3) Experiential Learning

According to Kolb, the experiential learning cycle goes in a continuous circle between Abstract Conceptualization –> Active Experimentation –> Concrete Experience –> Reflective Observation –> Abstract Conceptualization.

Medical education and training is done in many ways.  In my case, it included all of the following: large lecture rooms, small group labs, smaller group active demonstrations and tactile learning, mannequin simulations, actor simulations, participation in real-world situations as an observer, active participation in real-world situations as a team member, and even real-world situations where I needed to figure out and execute what to do on my own.

Having had this variety of experience, I feel that for me, at least, experiential learning was the best way to understand and more importantly, remember the material being taught.  As mentioned in my previous blog post, the methodology of teaching is quite important to tailor to the person being taught, but failing this one-on-one teaching potential, I believe that experiential learning would be the most ideal way to encourage learning.  One limited method of this is known as Problem-Based Learning or PBL, which I had some limited experience with in University.  PBL works by having small groups with a facilitator.  The facilitator aids the group in choosing a topic, and then the group self-organizes to break the topic up into sub-topics.  In pathology, this can include such things as the mechanism of action, the symptoms, the signs, the life-cycle of the pathogen/pathological condition, the side effects, the complications, and so-on.  Each member of the small group then takes on an element to study, and the group meets up later, with the facilitator, to present their information, and essentially teach the rest of the group what they have found.  This is not a truly experiential technique, but the investment for the student is higher, similar to an experiential situation, because other people are also relying on their successful research findings.  This is obviously a huge motivator in medical/health situations, as someone’s well-being would completely depend on your findings and subsequent actions based on those findings.  This also tends to result, for me, in a higher level of memory for the situation, findings and action to be taken if the situation were to arise again.

The trouble with experiential learning is that it is often quite time and resource-consuming.  Mentorship was largely abandoned in modern society due to the sheer numbers of people who needed to be taught a given skill or area, and mass-teaching became the norm instead.  Mentorship during a real-world situation would certainly be an excellent form of experiential learning, and continues to be so, for some very select professions.

Interestingly, my blog partner Sherri and I actually talked about learning forms a few weeks ago, and we actually came to the conclusion that video learning, such as with video tutorials, would probably be the best form of learning, and I realize now that we were probably thinking of the best form of mass-learning.  Experiential learning, from my own experience, and based upon some of the reasearch, it would also seem that it results in deeper learning as well, with better memory recall.  If there were better ways to mitigate large class sizes, this would be an excellent way to teach.


Lithgow, K.  Experiential Learning.  Retrieved from


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