Explain: How much do you understand?


Photo credit: lauramusikanski.

Articulate your understanding of a concept in phase two of the 5E training and learning model.

Last week’s blog was about Engage as the first phase in the 5E instructional model where we revisit prior knowledge to gather interest in learning a new concept. In the second stage of the 5E model, we learn about EXPLAIN where learners can describe and share their understanding of a concept and the processes that constitute it.

Neuroscience on understanding

What does neuroscience tell us about understanding? “Understanding is a matter of making connections with information we already know. The moment of understanding – often referred to as the ‘Eureka moment’ – happens when we piece together information which was once disparate to us. This requires our brain to make neural connections. Physiologically, understanding forms a new neural network.To understand, which literally means “stand in the midst of”, also means being able to reuse information in different situations. You must be able to activate knowledge, therefore understanding and memory are connected.”** Source: Medjad, Gil, Lacroix. Neurolearning. Eyrolles 2017.Through learners’ personal interpretations, analogies can be inferred; similarities and differences identified. The amount of new information must be kept to a minimum to save learners from a barrage of information.

Get your understanding across

With our brain constantly processing a great deal of information, it makes predictions using recognition of patchy knowledge. For example, when I hear the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” piped in to retail shops this season, I readily name or predict it and connect it to the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis where Judy Garland first sang it. This patchy knowledge was due in part to the film theory I had to study as a communication arts major where Meet Me in St. Louis was one of the films my lecturer selected for our class.To make these predictions, the brain groups everything it perceives into categories. Learning is all about categorizing at an increasingly accurate level. Explaining is therefore a matter of facilitating the categorization of new information.How do we enable understanding? Meaning allows us to focus our attention in the absorption of information and its encryption in the long-term memory.‘Explaining’ means to enable understanding in several ways. Using varied registers will give the learner more means to reactivate the knowledge when they need it.Medjad, Gil and Lacroix, in their publication Neurolearning, (Eyrolles, 2017), proposed three types of drivers:
  • semantic
  • sensory: images, audio, as well as body movements, the physical environment, etc.
  • emotional: surprise, staging, novelty, images, anecdotes, etc.
Enabling understanding is also allowing others to experience something in a reassuring, judgement-free environment. Learners should then confidently recognize the effectiveness of a given practice and where it fails to achieve it.

Learning tips to consider:

  • encourage learners to write what they understood in their own words, through diagrams and sketches
  • see how learners make analogies so take them into a storytelling journey
  • create opportunities for learners to move, handle and experience things while articulating their feelings
Cegos Asia Pacific. Beyond Knowledge. 2018


Sandy Hernandez, Client Solutions Director, Cegos Asia Pacific