Brains in L&D

So how DO we use Neuroscience to enhance L&D effectiveness?

Geoff setting the session up that we’ll be talking AT you and that it’s not ideal, as we all know from an L&D perspective, but that needs-must with the set up. However they’ve then actually quite a lot of interaction and discussion during the session and allowed lots of time for it.

What was less great was the fairly lengthy sales pitch about their business’s products & services. Is this to show their credibility to be here talking about this subject? Everyone’s different but I have trust in the CIPD to only put credible people on the stage.

This session should help application of knowledge of the brain to
– improve L&D content
– engage stakeholders in L&D activity

Quote from George E P Box. – remember that all models are wrong. The practical question is how long so they need to be to not be useful?

There’s no panacea solution but this is one thing in your toolkit. I like that they’ve set this context and expectation. Stop the bandwagon effect! There’s no one silver bullet solution!

They’ve shared some neuroscience essentials to start a discussion of how these are currently applied at work and in L&D.


Neuroplasticity – underpins a lot of this work – our brain continues to develop & change and we can self-direct this by taking deliberate control and take actions to re-wire our brain in a way we want. But people need to do this for themselves – you can’t make them. Same as we can’t make people change their behaviour – but we can create environments to enable them.

Habit – the brain likes to save energy by doing as much by habit as possible but this can hinder us at work because it stops us responding to change. Greater frequency, duration and quality of doing ‘new’ will re-wire the brain faster.

Emotion – the emotional part of the brain processes everything and then can pass to the rational brain. So we want learning to be in environments that are non-threatening, positive, enjoyable, rewarding. What’s the perspective of your learners who are coming to your session? What’s their reality? How can you adjust your content?

Executive Functioning – 2 bits to the brain – conscious, prefrontal context above your eyeballs. Processes things at the rate of small change in your pocket. The subconscious brain processes at rate of NY stock exchange. So prefrontal runs out of energy fairly quickly and needs to be re-charged.

It’s a common story for learning to lose budget when times get tough. Instead of compromising on quality, how else can we design content?

– Flipped classroom – get the content in advance – the stuff that can be learnt outside of classroom – so when you come together you can have a discussion, break it down and rebuild it to learn more and faster
Post-learning activities. Assessments to check learning done away from the classroom so session can be tailored more for learners.

– Short focused sessions – maximise the time when together to keep people engaged – 20-40 mins per session – change something to keep the brain interested. Change type of activity, change speaker, change tech.

Insight – spend more time reflecting to get an ah-ha moment – these moments come from your quiet subconscious brain being heard when you stop your prefrontal cortex getting in the way. Create time and space. Shower thinking!

Think about how you structure sessions because concepts need more subconscious brain reflection than sharing facts. What does this mean for evaluation of learning?

Memory – short term (RAD) made up of Reticular Activating System (looks for stuff to confirm what it already knows/believes/what has been raised in your consciousness), Amygdala (can help make connections if environment’s relaxed & conducive) and Dopamine (chemical pat on the back). Long term Potentiation (LTP) made up of Neuroplasticity & Habit. How can you create dynamic and novel content for learning to stimulate the brain out of habit, to look for new ideas instead of relying on what it’s used to.

Brain Health – what you do out of work impacts how you feel in work. When you sleep some parts of your brain are more active than when you’re awake – the Hippocampus – some of which needs 6 hours of solid sleep to actually start whirring. This part will help you store things from the day in your memory.
Eat well, exercise – and chocolate is good for your brain because it uses lots of energy!!

So how to engage the rest of the org? How to break the bad habits we get into between L&D and others?

What we see is behaviour – often habitual (models, tools & techniques)
What happens underneath is thinking and perception of a situation (neuroscience & psychology)
And all 3 are linked to shape your reality (PTB Model)

But we can shape this for ourselves to influence different perception-thinking-behaviour in others?

– What do we do based on perceptions, stories and opinions from others? Or who in your organisation do you have an unhelpful opinion of?

– What of this information is fact?

– If not much, what can you do to find out what the true reality is so you can move to a different perception, different thinking and different behaviours.

Despite the initial selling, and a bit of drip feed selling through the session, it’s been a good summary of those essentials and of how you can start to build that both into content design and how to engage and influence others to make L&D more effective for the business.


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