Defining Brain Gain in the Modern Classroom

The idea of “Brain Gain” certainly sounds like something you could achieve after watching a Jeopardy! marathon, reading the collected works of Ray Kurzweil, or spending a day with Elon Musk. However, the concept of “Brain Gain” as developed by Marc Prensky revolves around integrating technology in meaningful ways in our schools and combining what our brain does best with what technology can help us do better (Prensky, 2004).

Making Learning Real and Relevant

In his presentation, Prensky remarks that our current students are growing up in a different paradigm than most of their teachers. Students don’t know what it’s like to not have tech available at any moment, even if they don’t have it accessible to them. Students that don’t have technology at home certainly want it and jump at any chance they have to use it, no matter the task. Much of our problem in education today stems from the fact that when we give students tasks with technology, they are not relevant. Even if the tasks happen to be relevant, they are not real for the students (Prensky, 2004). Eric Sheninger, a former principal and current senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership at the International Center for Leadership in Education, stated that, “school is the exact opposite of the real world” for many students, including his own son (Sheninger, 2014).

In the Create Excellence Framework, there exists an opportunity for students to create something meaningful and real to their lives in the Specializing Level (Maxwell, Stobaugh, and Tassel, 2015, p. 35). However, there seems to be a disconnect with the content that is used in the Framework. The Framework still relies on an old industrial model of education to help define the tasks associated with the different levels. Perhaps we need a new model like the Connected Learning Model that “focuses on promoting learning that’s interest driven, peer supported, and infused with technology” (How, 2014).

Defining a New System

Prensky noted that one of the biggest problems facing education today is not just how we teach but what we teach. Prensky discussed abandoning the old core subjects of education to embrace new cores that are more relevant to the types of problems faced by 21st century students. In this new system, gone would be the subjects of math, language, science, and social studies to be replaced with effective thinking, action, relationships, and accomplishment (Prensky, 2004).

Yong Zhao also discusses the creation of a new education system. As time progressed, the education system changed based upon the talents that were valued by the economy. In an agricultural economy, talents and strengths based in manual labor were emphasized and honored and taught in the education system which was predominantly the apprentice-master system. As industrialization entered the economy, the education system shifted to produce employees that could complete tasks and were trained in many of the subjects we still teach today (Zhao, 2014).

The tasks most emphasized in an industrial economy find their place on the lower levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy and the Create Excellence Framework. Remembering simple facts or how to perform certain prescribed tasks fall on the Remember and Understand levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy and the Knowing and Practicing levels of the Create Framework (Maxwell et al., 2015). While these tasks have been important in the past, Zhao states that many of the jobs and tasks created during the industrial age are now being completed by technology or systems involving automation, robotics, or computer systems to complete the work (Zhao, 2014). As we move into a new era of technology and we experience the Brain Gain discussed by Prensky (2004) we must reevaluate the content we are teaching, not just the way we teach it. Although the Create Excellence Framework and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy provide richer, more relevant tasks for students, they still attempt to adhere to the current standards that are based upon the industrial model of schooling (Maxwell et al., 2015, p. 43).

If we truly want our students to be ready to compete in the world after they are done with school we must change our teaching and incorporate activities that prepare them not for the world their teachers grew up in but for the world the students are growing in right now.

Multimedia MindMap

At the beginning of Chapter 2 of RWLF (Maxwell et al., 2015), a scenario based upon a group of students identifying ways to make their school more environmentally conscious is given. This mindmap offers the cognitive level of the task in its original form and gives recommendations of how to move the task to higher levels on both Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and the Create Excellence Framework.

Make your own mind maps with Mindomo.


How Can We Make Learning Relevant to Today’s Students? (2014, May 19). Retrieved from

Maxwell, M., Stobaugh, R., & Tassell, J. H. (2015). Chapter 2: Cognitive complexity. In Real-world learning for secondary schools: Digital tools and practical strategies for successful implementation. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. ISBN: 9781935249443.

Prensky, M. (2004, February 26). Brain gain: technology and the quest for digital wisdom. [Video file]. Retrieved from (23:30)

Sheninger, E. (2014, November 03). Schools that work for kids | Eric Sheninger | TEDxBurnsvilleED. Retrieved from

Zhao, Y. (2014, March 10). World Class Learners. [Video file]. Retrieved from–J3E8yqc (10:19)