Brain-Compatible Learning: Embracing the Birkenbihl Approach

Damian Dąbrowski
3 min readApr 10, 2024


Brain-Compatible Learning is an educational philosophy that aligns teaching methods with the brain’s natural learning processes. This approach, championed by the late German psychologist Vera F. Birkenbihl, emphasizes strategies that facilitate efficient, effective, and enjoyable learning. By understanding and leveraging the way our brains function, Brain-Compatible Learning seeks to revolutionize educational experiences and outcomes.

The Birkenbihl Approach to Learning

Vera F. Birkenbihl was a vocal critic of traditional rote learning methods, which she believed ignored the brain’s inherent learning capabilities. Instead, she proposed a series of principles that support “brain-compatible” learning, a method that works with the brain rather than against it.

Key Principles of Brain-Compatible Learning

  1. Emphasis on Association: Birkenbihl argued for the power of association over memorization. By linking new information to what we already know, we create a web of connections that aid in understanding and remembering.
  2. Leveraging Visual and Mental Imagery: Imagery and mental visualization are used to create strong mental pictures, making complex and abstract information more tangible and memorable.
  3. Fostering Curiosity: This approach nurtures natural curiosity and self-motivation, encouraging learners to pursue topics that genuinely interest them, which leads to deeper and more self-driven learning.
  4. Encouraging Active Participation: Brain-Compatible Learning involves learners in active engagement with the material, whether through discussion, teaching others, or practical application, reinforcing learning through active involvement.
  5. Creating an Error-Friendly Environment: Recognizing mistakes as an essential part of the learning process, this method promotes an atmosphere where learners can take risks and learn from their errors without fear of reprimand.
  6. Making Holistic and Cross-Disciplinary Connections: Knowledge should not be siloed into separate categories. This approach encourages drawing connections across various fields, recognizing the interconnectedness of all knowledge.

Practical Applications

Educators and learners can implement Brain-Compatible Learning through various techniques, such as:

  • Mind Mapping: This involves constructing a visual diagram that represents concepts or ideas connected to and radiating from a central theme, fostering non-linear and associative thinking.
  • ABC Lists: A quick brainstorming activity where learners write down words related to a topic for each letter of the alphabet, promoting rapid association and creative thinking.
  • Category Transformation (KaWa Training): This technique involves reorganizing information into different categories to enhance comprehension and memory retention.
  • Language Shower: Birkenbihl’s method for language acquisition involves listening to foreign language texts at an understandable speed, along with a word-for-word translation, allowing learners to naturally absorb language patterns and vocabulary.

Brain-Compatible Learning offers an innovative approach to education that respects and utilizes the natural workings of the human mind. By adopting the principles and practices outlined by Vera F. Birkenbihl, educators and learners can foster a more dynamic, effective, and fulfilling learning environment. As our understanding of the brain’s learning processes continues to grow, Brain-Compatible Learning provides a compelling framework for tapping into our cognitive potential and rethinking the future of education.



Damian Dąbrowski

Hi, I’m Damian, a Software Engineer who loves building educational apps and simulations..