Neurons are the basis of all learning. It is the electrical firings and chemical messages (neurotransmitters) that run between neurons, the neural pathways, which produce our thoughts, feelings and interactions with our world.
Hebb's rule: The neurons that fire together wire together
Named after pioneering Canadian neurologist, Donald O. Hebb – one of the founding fathers of neuroscience, Hebb’s rule states that when two neurons fire together regularly or fire once with significant intensity, their connection is strengthened and they are more likely to fire together in future to the detriment of connections with other neurons.
This action forms the basis of learning.
We learn through repetition and recognition. Repetition creates well developed brain patterns (connections between neurons). Learning to drive a car is often used as a way of explaining learning in terms of moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. That transition from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence is about the building of new neural pathways and the more you practice the easier driving a car becomes until you don't have to think about it when you're doing it.
Some quick facts about neurons
How many neurons make a human brain? Billions fewer than we thought
Turns out we still don't really know. Interesting that the generally accepted number is 100 billion however this article refutes that. And in the video below, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young states we have 200 billion. I think the most important point for learning and development practitioners, is just to appreciate the enormity and complexity of the neurone numbers involved.
How We Learn – Synapses and Neural Pathways
The best explanation I have found about the physicality of how the brain learns comes from Lord Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London:
When we learn, we are rewiring our brains: creating new neural pathways, reinforcing existing pathways and pruning others.
The brains ability to change in response to our experiences, its ability to learn.
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young at TEDxToronto: