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Neuroscience tips for L&D

by Susan Dumas - May 3, 2016

This blog is about understanding and using the science of learning to build your L&D service and how to support your staff with high quality, well designed eLearning content. Our Content development services and Compliance solutions are designed based on the science of learning and it is something we are very passionate about.

Neuroscience and learning - what you need to know

Terms like emotional intelligence, resilience, neuroplasticity, neuroscience and cognitive bias are now common parlance in the workplace. The use of new and more powerful MRI scanners in the last 20 years means we are learning more and more about our brain and what impacts its function – positively and negatively. In an era where the Internet and social media has democratised access to information, many of us are seeking answers to performance improvement that we were never able to understand before.

 "If you change your thoughts, you change your world"

Norman Vincent Peale

Knowing about and making use of neuroscience insights is the ultimate business advantage - do you have the head for it? 

Organisations such as the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) frequently write about insights into neuroscience and how it can help your workforce:

Neuroscience in action: applying insights to L&D practice, November 2014
How several high profile organisations have used insights into how the brain works to enhance learner engagement, improve customer service and reduce staff turnover and training costs.

US organisations such as the Association of Talent Development (ATD), have produced similar resources:

Essentials of brain-based learning
4.5 hour online interactive programme: if you could understand what was happening in the brains of your target audience, would you be a more effective trainer, designer, consultant, or leader?

Five quick neuroscience insights for L&D

Try these with some colleagues – over a couple of 'lunch and learn' sessions or your next team meeting.

1. Brain tricks

Your brain processes information in TWO distinct ways – by either thinking fast (system 1) or thinking slow (system 2). But which is used when and why? Knowing when system 1 and system 2 are best used can help you with everyday tasks and learning new skills.

Our brain invests as little resources as possible so things run quickly and smoothly. We often have to force ourselves to pay attention, think critically and consider all the information available, when this is important. 

 Can you answer this? Try to answer question first and then watch the video explanation.

Brain Tricks

2. Dispelling brain myths

 Look at the following statements, BEFORE you watch the video. Which are true?

  1. A bigger brain means more intelligence.
  2. Humans only use about 10% of their brains.
  3. The brain uses about 20% of the body’s energy
  4. People use one side of the brain more than the other depending on their talents
    (left = logical, right=creative)
  5. We have five main senses


 Read our blog on dispelling training myths

3. Understanding neuroplasticity – can you teach old dog new tricks?

Understanding the term neuroplasticity is key to learning and unlearning. It is a vital term for L&D to think about too. See if you can determine if these statements are True or False before watching the video.

 The brain’s neuroplasticity means that:

  • The brain is fixed and hardwired once we get into adulthood
  • The brain can and does change throughout our lives
  • If we feel, think or experience something we have experienced before, it weakens the connection in the brain
  • Doing new things means that the brain has to carve out new connections but these can become easier if we keep practising


4. Emotions and the brain

How could you use knowledge of emotions in your L&D work? Do you encoutner people in your job who are stressed and sometimes don’t act rationally? This is a known phenomenon called emotional highjack. If you recognise someone in this state it won’t be a good time to communicate with them. Emotional highjack causes people to:

  • Become irratable
  • Restrict their options
  • Make poor decisions

But the good news is that we can learn to better manage our emotions through conscious thinking. If we think we are afriad, then we will be. If we try to re-direct our thoughts or reframe our thinking to something more positive, then we can reduce the impact of unhelpful emotions.

There is a good summary of how emotions can impact our decision-making in this video.

emotions of the brain


5. Getting to a growth mindset

A growth mindset is about more than optimism; it is about looking for opportunities when others only see challenge and it is about managing your emotions to let your brain do its best work. What would your organisation be like if you had more people with a growth mindset?

getting to a growth mindset


Often what holds us back from learning and growth is fear and confidence – fear of failure, of looking stupid!

What does all of this this mean for L&D?

If L&D has a better understanding of how the brain works and what might hold us back, then training and learning interventions could take on a different focus. Imagine a training programme that you designed did not give you the results you wanted. What might have gone wrong? Was it too complex – did you address system 1 and system 2 thinking? Did you make it easier for people to understand and retain any complex information? And did you help them to practice and consolidate new skills?

According to how our brain works, doing these things, regularly and supporting staff is vital. So go on, be your organisation's brain friendly learning guru today! We blog a lot on this topic and also have a great free learning resource of how to create brain friendly eLearning.

Supporting your staff in a flexible way

Understanding how adults learn in the workplace is one of our key strengths. We use that knowledge to provide an efficient and effective Content development service and our Compliance solutions could improve compliance training in your organisation. Staff in today's workplace need flexible on-demand learning solutions - that is where we can help. 


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