Tag Archives: Neuroscience

E1 Using Cognitive Neuroscience to Maximise Learning

Working in an organisation providing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, learning about how we can use neuroscience to support people to be the best version of themselves excited me. The human brain is quite frankly amazing – in the truest sense of the word. The pathways and connections learned, strengthened and reinforced, as well as the capacity to form new pathways are astonishing. The fact that we can attend to our own thoughts and observe them is powerful. And yet the neurological communication is so vast and intricate that overall know little, apart from potential. Like outer space and the deepest parts of the worlds oceans. However despite these latter two examples, I believe that to know and understand the human brain and chemistry is more reachable.
And Dr Itiel Dror makes it so…as he begins by inviting us to contact him after today if we want further information, he is keen to share more.

Itiel’s day job is research, with a little bit of training and consultancy. He is interested in human performance, skills, judgement and decision making and works with organisations in the forensic domain (e.g. police, CJS) and consults to improve performance with organisations. Cognitive covers understanding the human mind and out thinking processes.

What can you do to make your training more effective?
Itiel’s says if we can understand the brain/mind, we can apply this specifically to enhance our practice. This is what we will leave the session with today.

Itiel demonstrated the Stoop Effect and asks us to read aloud the colour of the text, not the word. Try it here.

Our brain performs automatically most of the time.

The point, its not enough to clearly and exactly instruction – instructions are not brain friendly. We must take into account how the brain works. To follow the instructions of someone else is not thinking for ourselves. The cognitive process is different and we don’t gain any learning or self-efficacy.

The brain is:
Active – always computing and processing and communicating
Limited – in resources and ability to process, so not all information get assimilated even when we’d like it to, and I guess vice versa.

Dr Dror shows us a graphic or coffee beans, and within in, asks if we can spot the face. I can’t – and I know this is because the older we get the more we perceive holistically: our brains view images as a whole and struggle to depict the detail or abstract element (just that piece of information has so much application).

Itiel challenges us, it’s not good enough to say “i gave them the information…it’s there job to learn”. It is our ethical responsibility to create brain friendly learning environments and design learning sessions that enable learning. “It is not unto the ‘Learner’ to learn”. This is different to others messages about self-directed and curated learning, and the argument that we should appreciate that people are learning without any input. Or maybe, their is a fine balance.

We need to design and deliver with consideration and appreciation of how the brain understand information, process it and stores it for later use: assimilate and transference in application.

“if you don’t understand this, how can you design training, deliver training…if you care and you want people to learn, this defines the game”

Dr Dror says he wants to enable us to train people who don’t want to be trained, who think they don’t need the training and who challenge us all the way through. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced that. I wonder if you thinking that people shouldn’t turn up to a learning session unless they already know why they’re there, and actually want to be. And, I wonder if you’ve been the facilitator with a group of people who make it very clearly they don’t want to be there…only at the end of the day to get feedback like “i didn’t want to come today, but it was brilliant!’ , or “that was 50 times better than I was expecting it to be”….? I wonder if you believe that peer word of mouth (not a coaching manager) is the best encourager of learning.



  • Active learning is better than passive
  • Doing is more memorable that learning by taking notes
  • Simulations provide experiences to learn within

3 critical perspectives – learning is:

  • ACQUISITION – maximise the capacity for people to acquire the information. Get the balance right: how many brain calories do people need to spend to acquire the information you are passing on? the amount of information acquire should outweigh the effort expended to gain it. Is this how we learn?
  • REMEMBERING – we want people to be able to retrieve the information and have it stored for when needed. Give manageable sizes and repeat.  Is this how we learn?
  • APPLICATION – we want learning to have behavioural impact so we maximise transfer and generalisation of skills…. Dr Dror is suggesting we want to get to here [this links to Maslow’s self-actualising for me].

How to do active learning…


“It depends how emotion you want it to be, from subtle to extreme and i’m not a subtle man” – we don’t get to decide whether or not the learning is emotional at Addaction. If we ignore it, we don’t accept the emotional content. Itiel’s example is sex education with young people, and showing them photos of what can happen to infected genitalia. The team at Addaction facilitate workshops including topics like suicide, and domestic violence.

How to do emotional learning…

  • Tell a personal story – bring it alive and be real, the power of story telling
  • Let people make mistakes, show them the mistake, let them experience and feel it – then of course, give them the opportunity (and resource) to get it right
  • Show them photos (e.g. of real examples) – I would add video here, which can also be reaching and impactful
  • Shock and traumatise them – [whilst giving you a fair account of the learning session I’m in today I can’t endorse this an ethical L+D practice, even if it was discussed in lightness. Neither does the CIPD]. Dr Dror clearly emphasises that this should be used in context! Think relevance to the learning. His example is that he says regularly says to his children “don’t leave your phone lying around someone will take it’, and so when they do, he takes it. Once, and they never left it lying around again.

 Image of geography twister map to make learning fun and engaging.

You can contact Dr Dror at http://www.cci-hq.com and i.dror@ucl.ac.uk
[This blog was written live in session at the CIPD Learning and Development Show 2016, Olympia, London on Thursday 12th May. My intention is to capture a faithful summary of the session highlights, but my own bias and views will undoubtedly contribute to the tapestry of this story. Please excuse any typos, and don’t hesitate to join the conversation on Twitter with me @Jo_Coaches and the blog-squad #cipdldshow]

Top 10 Things Psychology has taught me about L+D

Psychological theory is learning theory. To understand people, behaviour, thinking and how the brain works a little more is to understand how people learn, how we are likely to act, to make choices, to automatically think.

There’s a lot of ‘neuroscience of learning’ around, complete with the neuro-bollox label. Neuroscience isn’t bollocks. Neuroscience is actually fascinating (especially if you’re a bit geeky about bio-psych like me) and continues to help us go beyond serotonin, dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin to understand the minute complexities of all the neurochemicals in play. It has remarkable potential, for example we still don’t fully understand mental health or have sound medications to support imbalances. There is also a caution, because for real world application neuroscience needs social, biological and psychological context to make sense in a useful and helpful way.

And then… the stuff I am reading and hearing that is titled neuroscience for learning is familiar because it’s Psychology 101. Not rocket science, not neuroscience, just psychology – the most interesting and curious subject of all. So here are my top 10 things that psychology has taught me about my L+D practice.

  1. Emotion is always present and is required for deep, long-term learning. We are in a constant state of regulation and balance within our nervous system; some of us do this more easily than others. Learning that shifts us to change and do something different taps into our beliefs and values, that guide our learned processes. As these are usually long held-foundations, accessing them with new information that doesn’t quite fit is threatening; it’s emotional. If you’re not feeling something, you’re not learning. It also means change isn’t an overnight event.
  2. To learn is to change and do something different. For change to happen, first there has to be full unbiased acceptance, validation, appreciation and understanding (yes all of those, genuinely) of the current status quo. Then we can look at new, different, moving it, altering it. On average a permanent change will occur after 7 attempts at the making the change.
  3. Well designed gamification models maximise the principles of addiction. There is no addictive personality, and therefore we can all experience these tendencies. A milder model of behavioural addiction would mirror a standard learning theory.
  4. Maslow matters. The opportunity to self-actualise is essential for learning that engages the whole person. Setting challenging tasks that utilise skills, knowledge and attitude combined are important.
  5. The environment matters. The Harlow monkeys didn’t choose the wire-monkey-mummy that had the food (seemingly the priority for survival). They chose the wire-monkey-mummy that was covered in cotton wool; the one that gave the best hugs. As per no.4 the basics are important too: a safe environment without judgement where error is accepted, building self-esteem through achievable steps, belonging via involvement in own learning. Furthermore (as I’m not linking you up and Harlow is not direct evidence) spatial awareness is a environmental contributor. Spending time expanding our peripheral awareness using visualisation can positively impact learning by providing space for more open and broader thinking – useful when we learn in a boxed square space/office hoping for creativity.
  6. Learning happens all the time, whether there is a L+D professional there or not. Look for it, seek it, notice it, and help it along a little.
  7. Learning something new and/or doing something different is a needs response to fulfil a function. If there is no need, there is unlikely to be any learning. Even if the end function or reason for learning isn’t obvious. If there is no clear need – don’t proceed with trying to get people learning. You’ll need to fully understand the need as starting point for facilitating any learning.
  8. We are much more likely to accept and fully assimilate (learn from) new information when it’s offered from our peers, and/or a setting of mutuality with the other person/people. An authoritative expert approach (e.g. I tell you this information is true and factual, and I’m credible, therefore you will now go away and use it) is likely to impact immediate and superficial change. However, new information presented as an offering for discussion and consideration before choosing to uptake or disregard is much more likely to be accepted.
  9. Reflective practice is learning in action. Do it. For everything and anything. Find a tool/model of reflective practice that suits you and push yourself to go on a reflective journey after a challenging day/conversation/experience.
  10. Learning cannot be done to. That isn’t learning, it’s something else. “Just do this and that will happen” is not enough. We are not purely behavioural, and we don’t go directly from A to B. We go swiftly and often automatically (learnt behaviour) from A to C and there is always a B in-between A and C, whether situated in our consciousness or subconsciousness. Learning with lasting application works on B; the belief, the automatic thought (see no.1).