Educational Media Design & Technology blog and action plan

Literature Review August 20, 2011

Building a Better Classroom: Brain-Based Learning and Technology

Amanda Rhymer



Teachers have always known that in order to teach a child, one of the greatest hurdles faced is getting the child into the classroom.  Jackson, Gaudet, McDaniel and Brammer (2009) reported that all subjects and all learning styles could be enhanced through the use of technology.  The authors found a multitude of different ways that effective teachers can integrate technology, but cautioned that teachers should focus first on learning theories and the overall way that individual students learn.  If teachers could create a more inviting classroom environment using technology, combined with the tenets of brain-based learning, then students would be more willing to come to class and experience active learning.  This literature review focuses on research that described how specific technology was effectively used to create an atmosphere of collaboration and sharing that contributed to increased participation by the students and increased retention of material presented to the students.


Technology in the Classroom

The ways in which teachers used technology to improve student performance varied from interactive whiteboards (IWBs) to specific software programs, to very specialized applications.  Tanner, Beauchamp, Jones and Kennewell (2010) found that the effective use of IWBs in classrooms varied from classroom to classroom and was greatly influenced by the performance of the teacher.  The authors focused on the use of IWBs in math classes and how the improvisation of the teacher resulted in successful performances for the children. Likewise, Curwood (2009) found that IWBs helped promote student learning and engagement in a learner-centered classroom. The author also talked about the accessories that come with the IWBs, like student response systems, that were used to get instant feedback from students.  This technology was used to instill a game-like effect to reviews and quizzes, thus increasing the attraction of the technology.


In a separate study, Boon, Burke, Fore and Hagan-Burke (2006) found that the use of Inspiration software in the social studies classroom had a significant increase in performance when compared to students who did not use the software. These results were supported by a pre-test and post-test given to two groups of students. One group used the software in their social studies classroom to foster active learning while the other group used more traditional lecture and note-taking methods. The group using the software outperformed the more traditional group on the post-test.  Debevec, Shih and Kashyap (2006) found that even basic use of class web sites that make PowerPoint slides available online increased both the attendance and performance of students that were previously considered low in both traditional and technological learning methods. The authors found that students were able to integrate the PowerPoint notes into their already established learning habits or establish new learning habits around the notes. The authors did note that some students used the notes to replace classroom discussion and so missed out on some of the valuable classroom interaction. Using the tenets of brain-based learning should help teachers decide which tools would be most helpful in the learning process.


Brain-Based Learning Techniques

Teachers who combined techniques from brain-based learning theory with technology experienced significant advances in student performance. Miller (2004) advised teachers to recognize the value of technology as a cognitive tool when used according to learning theory.  The author focused on an investigation of instructors who both believe in and apply the theories of brain-based learning combined with technology in their classrooms. Miller (2004) concentrated on one high school and its staff who fully embraced the ideas of brain-based learning. The author concluded that active learning could no longer involve students passively sitting through lecture and silent sustained reading. Technology enabled the teachers to be facilitators of active learning, moving freely about the room while they monitored the students engaged in various activities. Likewise, Duman (2010) conducted a study using two groups of students, one being taught with traditional methods while the other was taught using brain-based technology resources. The brain-based approach was much more successful at increasing student achievement, especially among students with different learning styles. Ali, Ghazi, Shahzad and Khan (2010) examined the impact of brain-based learning in secondary schools. The authors compared two groups of students and found that the students taught using brain-based methods showed better results on a post-test than those taught in a traditional method.


The ideal case for using brain-based learning techniques and technology in the classroom was presented by Wilson (2004). The author proposed that combining learning theory and technology allowed students to take control of their own path to learning. One proposed technique was that the use of student projects to create original pieces of art, writing, models, etc. This author stated classrooms that embrace brain-based learning should be noisy, active places where students are actively involved in the learning process.  Likewise, Kagan (2004) promoted the playing of games to stimulate learning.  The author stated the benefits of game playing in the classroom, from increased stimulation of the brain cells to an emotional connection to the material being learned.  Kagan emphasized that game play triggers three important brain responses:  emotion, challenge and social interaction.  All three of these responses were critical to enhanced learning and retention.  The author noted that employing the aspects of brain-based learning, mainly stimulating the brain through the use of technology, increases both performance and retention.


Specific Applications of Technology

A great deal of research on technology in the classroom focused on specific technology tools, general applications and specific software that has been used in the classroom to promote authentic learning.  Campbell, Wang, Hsu, Duffy and Wolf (2010) proposed a model for integrating the way students use technology in school with the way they use technology outside of school, specifically in the science classroom.  The authors suggested that both teachers and students would benefit from learning how to use the technology that students already possess to access the Internet and increase scientific knowledge. Kay (2011) also reported that student performance, especially understanding, application and evaluation of concepts, increased dramatically with the use of web-based tools.  The qualitative data in this study was collected from 443 students enrolled in mathematics and science at the middle school level.  Both students and teachers reported increased engagement in the subject when web-based tools were being used in the classroom. Likewise, Kingsley and Brinkerhoff (2011) found a constantly evolving array of Internet-based tools that were available to students to help them with communications, interactions with peers and multimedia projects. The authors specifically found that the use of these tools increased student motivation, learning and retention as well as offering teachers new opportunities for assessment of authentic learning.


Several authors also reported the use of webcasts, webquests and podcasts to support student learning in the classroom. Putman and Kingsley (2009) focused on the use of podcasts to reinforce middle school science vocabulary terms. These podcasts were accessed outside the classroom, after regular school hours.  Students reported that the podcasts motivated them to learn the vocabulary. There were other comments by students about the value of the podcasts, including using them to review and using them after an absence. Similarly, Summers (2011) discussed the use of webcasts, podcasts and games in education. This author stressed the use of simulation games in education as well as the business world for training purposes.  Companies were using simulation games to train workers, like the Mobil Oil SimRefinery.  Some cities, like New York City, were using virtual reality in Second Life to plan for a natural disaster.


Dalton and Grisham (2011) focused on ten specific ways to build vocabulary skills using technology.  The authors stated that the goal of teachers should be to successfully integrate vocabulary instruction and technology to promote authentic learning.  The authors give specific tools to use in ten different areas including visual displays of word relationships, on-line reference tools, and using vocabulary review to contribute to a social cause.  Programs mentioned include: Wordle, Wordsift, Free Rice, Visual Thesaurus and Trackstar.  These specific tools were used to increase word recognition, familiarity and recall of meaning. Shively (2011) proposed a method that would combine technology with a model from the 1950s to encourage the growth of creativity in students.  Using Guilford’s model of divergent thinking (Guilford, 1973) and applied current technology tools to each of the four dimensions: fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration (FFOE).  Fluency was interpreted as the ability to generate many ideas in a short period of time, or brainstorming.  The author recommended using interactive whiteboards, wiki pages, concept-mapping tools or Wordle for this process.  Flexibility was the ability to look at an idea from a different perspective, thus increasing interpersonal skills and promoting cross-cultural understanding.  Applications used for these skills were Glogster, VoiceThread, Blabberize and other blogging or chat tools.  Originality was the easiest dimension to promote using technology tools, as there are a plethora of choices available that allow students to speak with their own voice or express their own ideas.  Some tools reviewed were Blabberize, Dabbleboard, Tagxedo, Wallwisher and Xtranormal.  In each instance, specific tools were listed to give teachers many options to increase student skills, performance and enjoyment of the learning process.



There are many technological tools available to teachers today that, if used correctly, would help to build a better classroom.  Those tools ranged from interactive whiteboards to recorded podcasts to specific applications.  Each of these tools was used by various ages of students in various subjects and across many different cultures.  What each scenario had in common was enhanced motivation of the student, increased performance on tests and retention of the information that was being taught to the student.  Many of these tools also helped students go beyond basic knowledge of the subject and move into areas of analysis and evaluation of deeper concepts.  All of these tools, when combined with brain-based learning theory, showed how technology and teaching could be used successfully in the classroom.



Ali, R., Ghazi, S.R., Shahzad, S., & Khan, H.N. (2010). The impact of brain based learning on students’ academic achievement. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 2(2), 542-556.  Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.

Boon, R., Burke, M., Fore III, C., & Hagan-Burke, S. (2006).  Improving student content knowledge in inclusive social studies classrooms using technology-based cognitive organizers: A systematic replication. Learning Disabilities—A Contemporary Journal, 4(1), 1-17. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Campbell, T., Wang, S.K., Hsu, H., Duffy, A.M., & Wolf P.G. (2010). Learning with web tools, simulations, and other technologies in science classrooms. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 19(5), 505-511.  Retrieved from ERIC database.

Curwood, J. (2009). Education 2.0. Instructor, 118(6), 29-32. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc strategies: 10 ways to use technology to build vocabulary. Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306-317. doi: 10.1598/RT.64.5.1

Debevec, K., Shih, M., & Kashyap, V. (2006). Learning strategies and performance in a technology integrated classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(3), 293-307. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Duman, B. (2010). The effects of brain-based learning on the academic achievement of students with different learning styles. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 10(4), 2077-2103. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Guilford, J. P., & Illinois State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, (1973). Characteristics of Creativity. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Jackson, A., Gaudet, L., McDaniel, L., & Brammer, D. (2009). Curriculum integration:  The use of technology to support learning. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 6(7), 71-78.  Retrieved from ERIC database.

Kagan, S. (2004).  Silly sports and goofy games, the tenth reason to play: Play friendly instruction. Kagan Online Magazine. Retrieved from

Kay, R. (2011). Exploring the impact of web-based learning tools in middle school mathematics and science classrooms. Journal of Computers in Mathematics & Science Teaching, 30(2), 141-162. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.

Kingsley, K., & Brinkerhoff, J. (2011). Web 2.0 tools for authentic instruction, learning and assessment. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 23(3), 9-13. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Miller, A., & Association for Educational Communications and Technology, W. C. (2004). Brain-based learning with technological support. Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Putman, S., & Kingsley, T. (2009). The atoms family: Using podcasts to enhance the development of science vocabulary. Reading Teacher, 63(2), 100-108.  Retrieved from Literary Reference Center database.

Shively, C. (2011). Grow creativity! Learning & Leading with Technology, 38(7), 10-15. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Summers, D. (2011). Short attention-span theater: The rapidly evolving learning moment. MWorld, 10(2), 34-39. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.

Tanner, H., Beauchamp, G., Jones, S., Kennewell, S., & Mathematics Education Research Group of, A. (2010). Interactive whiteboards and all that jazz: Analysing classroom activity with interactive technologies. Mathematics Education Research Group Of Australasia. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Wilson, S. (2004). Creative projects stimulate classroom learning. Science Scope, 28(2), 41-43. Retrieved from ERIC database.