Magazine article Talent Development

6 Tips for Working with the Brain to Create Real Behavior Change: Discover Key Principles for Learning Design That Maximize the Brain's Capacity to Learn, Build Memories, and Develop Habits

Magazine article Talent Development

6 Tips for Working with the Brain to Create Real Behavior Change: Discover Key Principles for Learning Design That Maximize the Brain's Capacity to Learn, Build Memories, and Develop Habits

Article excerpt

The latest report from the research firm Bersin by Deloitte shows that more money is being spent on learning and development than ever before. And yet, studies suggest that as much as 90 percent of new skills learned are lost within a year. If learning activities don't yield real and sustainable behavior change, that investment is wasted.

We know that learning is the pathway to improvement, so it's natural that as organizations seek to improve their talent, they look to learning and development. But the problem is that some of our learning initiatives are not being designed as effectively as they could be.

Discover key principles for learning design that maximize the brain's capacity to learn, build memories, and develop habits.

As a learning professional, I have immersed myself in neuroscience research, and what I learned really changed how I approach training design and delivery. Some of the studies confirmed things I had learned through trial and error long ago, and others completely shifted how I approached my craft. Here are six takeaways.

Tip #1: Work with the brain

Different parts of the brain play core roles in how a person first learns information, then stores that information into memory, and finally uses that learning to create real and lasting behavior change. If we don't work with the brain and its natural processes, even the most popular or highly rated programs won't deliver in the long run.

It is imperative that talent development professionals keep their finger on the pulse of brain science. As researchers learn more about how the brain and nervous system work, it will only enhance the quality of our learning products.

The brain structures that are involved in learning include the hippocampus, the amyg dala, and the basal ganglia. To design the best learning experiences, we need to understand and respect the neuroscience of learning.

Tip #2: Focus is the starting point of learning

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that takes in information and moves it to our memory. When it's damaged, people lose access to past memories and no longer can make new ones.

The hippocampus acts like a recorder or data drive; like those devices, it has an "on" button. Physiologically, it's when our eyes and ears attune to something that causes the hippocampus to begin recording. Richard Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin, calls this "phase locking" and it's the starting point of all learning.

As a result, we must design our learning environments to help people focus and we must bust the myth that you can multitask while learning. Research has proved that when we divide our attention, our focus switches back and forth between the two activities, also known as switch tasking.

The hippocampus loses vital pieces of information for both of the things we were trying to attend to. I call this "Swiss tasking" because we end up with holes in the data the hippocampus was capturing and, therefore, holes in our learning that cannot be recovered.

Here is the big shocker about the hippocampus: It can only hold so much information before it must be processed and pushed into short-term memory. Studies show that the maximum amount is about 20 minutes of information.

Lecture-style sessions never have demonstrated good results for retention, and now we know why-it works against the brain's natural functioning. The good news is that many other learning activities can help.

All the hippocampus needs is a few minutes of processing to push that data into short-term memory and it's ready again for more. I now build all my learning events in chunks of 15 minutes of information followed by a processing activity, such as a dyad discussion, a period of reflection, an experiential activity, or even a break.

I can then string these mini-modules together into a longer session, although I rarely go longer than a half-day because of what I have learned about the brain. …

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