Do seasons and time of day affect learning?
This is something we don’t think about often, as we plan any extra activity -including language lessons-around our working schedule, but some studies show our brain performance and activity are different throughout the day and through the seasons.
For instance, a study published by G. Vandewalle and C. Meyern (University of Liege –Belgium) shows that the amount of brain activity involved in performing cognitive tasks (paying attention, storing, comparing and updating information) changed with seasons. In March, brain activity related to memory was lower than its peak in the fall, while brain activity related to paying attention was higher in June and lower in December, suggesting that seasons actually affect our brain functioning. However, it must be clear that this study showed no change in performance during the seasons.
Another study published last year by a group of scientists led by Gregory A. Book, in Connecticut, concluded that parts of our brains change in volume through the seasons. The areas responsible for learning and motivation become smaller in summer and larger in winter, while the cerebellum, involved in memory through repetition among other cognitive functions, is affected in a reversed way.
Exactly how these changes affect our learning is yet to be determined, as most studies focus on mood and behavior rather than brain activity in the learning process.
Just as seasons affect our brain size and activity level, the time we choose to study during the day has different outcomes as well. According to research scientists from Duolingo, sleep has a positive impact on learning and retention of a second language vocabulary. They analyzed the behavior and studying habits of language learners and found out that the main two factors that yield better results were: consistency (studying everyday, including weekends) and practicing before bed.
This does not mean that you need to schedule your lessons exclusively in the evening, but suggests that regardless of what time of the day you schedule your lessons or how many per week you take, practicing for some minutes before bed everyday could help you achieve your learning goals faster.
This is very interesting to know, because as adult learners we have already acquired learning habits through our lives and we mainly know our strengths and challenges when it comes to learning. Taking this new information into consideration can be very beneficial in our language learning journey.