“We all are gifted, and that is our inheritance.” Ethel Waters
The brain is a vast and beautiful landscape that has fascinated scientists, researchers, psychologists, and anyone who wishes to understand it. With each one of us being wired so differently, designers and architects in the learning and development industry have long struggled with conceptualizing and developing solutions that cater to every learner’s unique needs.
To develop innovative, engaging, and adaptive learning solutions, we need to have a better understanding of how the human brain processes, stores, and retrieves information. In this blog, we will look at some learning myths, recent neuroscientific findings, and actionable insights that you can apply to your learning design to ensure an effective learning experience. We will also look at some examples from the learning industry that have effectively implemented some of these insights. But before we segue into these insights and how we can leverage them, let’s understand neuroplasticity and why it is so important for learning and design professionals.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change, reorganize, grow neural networks, and form new connections and pathways. The human brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons. The brain has the innate ability to learn new things and enhance its existing cognitive capabilities.
Neuroscientists have discovered that the key to making a new learning stick is ‘hippocampal activation.’ The hippocampus is a region of the brain that’s active when new information is embedded into long-term memory. Higher hippocampal activation leads to durable learning. Research states that the hippocampus activates when four conditions are met: attention, generation, emotion, and spacing. This forms the framework of the AGES Model. The AGES model, which stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing, provides guidelines for designing and delivering effective eLearning courses.
This two-minute video shows how the brain's neuroplasticity influences the AGES model's four conditions, resulting in durable and impactful learning. Remember to pause and think about the concept of neuroplasticity, as we will discuss that further in the blog.
Busting the Learning Myths
In the video, Today, neuroscientists have debunked the myth about the brain being ‘set’ after a certain age. In his book, “The Brain That Changes Itself,” Dr. Norman Doidge emphasizes that our brains remain malleable throughout our lives.
Let’s explore some other myths concerning the brain and how we learn.
Myth 1: The Brain Dominance Theory
The brain dominance theory, popularly known as the ‘Left Brain vs Right Brain’ debate, is dated. You need both hemispheres of your brain to continuously work together since they relate to the corpus callosum, which acts as a bridge. For example, if you had to solve a complex math problem, the right brain will likely process smaller numbers faster than the left brain. Interestingly, this ‘discovery’ may have emerged from a misunderstanding of the split-brain work of Nobel Prize winner, Roger Sperry, who noticed differences in the brain when he studied people whose left and right brains had been surgically disconnected.
Myth 2: The ‘10 Percent’ Theory
Historically, we have believed we use only 10 percent of the brain. This notion is also outdated, and neuroplasticity asserts that the brain can reorganize and restructure itself at a cellular level, allowing it to adapt to changes that come from:
- New experiences
- Environmental changes
- Brain damage
Neuroplasticity releases us from responding reflexively because of our genetic hard-wiring and becomes more adaptive to:
- Environmental pressure
- Physiological changes
- New experiences
Myth 3: The Male Versus Female Brain
Now, that is not only a myth but also sexist. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the genders learn or should be taught differently, though there could be some subtle differences among individuals. Again, it’s quite amusing how this myth stems from misinterpretations of books such as “The Essential Difference: Men, Women, and the Extreme Male Brain,” which focused largely on people with autism.
Myth 4: The Importance of Highlighting Key Points
Science does not substantiate that reading and highlighting key information can facilitate better recall. Learning and remembering information needs you to recall the information a couple of times for the brain to register. Reading provokes familiarity and recognition. Using mind maps, capturing key points, and making notes are better ways to remember what you learn.
There could be many more learning myths that you may have heard. Thorough investigation through cognitive neuroscientific study can help you inch closer to debunking these myths and help foster an unbiased and healthy learning environment for learners.
The Power of Neuroscience
If you are an innovation expert in the learning and development field, then you're no stranger to the challenge of ensuring that your learning interventions are engaging and effective and can resonate with a diverse group of learners. As we dig deeper into the latest neuroscientific evidence, you will gather insights that enable you to make your learning programs highly effective.
We have already debunked the ‘set’ brain and understood that our brains can rewire and adapt, irrespective of age. How does this relate to learning and development?
Impact on Learning Design
- Make learning diverse: Every enterprise today insists on an inclusive learning environment that caters to a diverse workforce. So, it’s essential to design learning modules with this diversity in mind. A senior manager who is a baby boomer and an intern who is from Gen Z can equally adapt to new information, but differently. A diverse range of modules tailored to different learning preferences can bridge this gap. For example, Gen Z may prefer learning that leverages AI, VR, or AR technology, whereas baby boomers may prefer case studies with industry examples.
- Make learning bite-sized: Cognitive load theory asserts that the brain can only handle so much new information simultaneously. Designing bite-size learning modules, or micro-learning modules, can help solidify concepts. Segmented learning is another format that relies on neural processing and its preference for bite-sized learning.
This language-learning app relies on bite-sized learning through daily exercises that use previously learned material and lead to continuous neural engagement. According to a research paper published by Owl Health, the language abilities of Duolingo users were 91.4 points, indicating the effectiveness of their learning strategies.
TED-Ed uses a learning modality where complex topics are broken down into short, animated videos, making learning engaging and consumable.
Emotional Learning and Retention
Several brain studies have shown that the hippocampus in the brain is responsible for how we process our emotions. Our brains are more likely to remember content that evokes strong emotions. The success of a learning intervention is dependent on how the learner has received the learning experience at an emotional level.
Impact on Learning Design
- Storytelling: Add real-world examples in your learning modules to make them relatable and incite emotions in the learners. Incorporate relatable stories from industry veterans, experts within your organization, or even your peers in your learning modules. This makes the content more engaging and helps with better retention. Real-world examples make the narrative more authentic, one of the core principles of making learning stick and connect with your learners.
- Real-life Scenarios: Create simulation-based learning that includes real-life situations. Simulating real-world situations enables learners to explore and experience the outcomes of their reactions and decisions in a safe environment.
- Gamification: Another interesting neuroscientific theory is about dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in learning and motivation. Games often trigger dopamine releases, making gamified learning particularly effective.
Pixar in a Box
Pixar’s in-house training course, developed in partnership with Khan Academy, integrates storytelling into learning about animation, making complex ideas relatable. For more information on this training course, read this blog. To access the complete course on YouTube, click here.
Harvard Business School (HBS) Online
Harvard Business School's online platform uses case studies from real businesses, ensuring learners feel the emotional weight of decision-making. According to a HBS survey in 2022, 90 percent of takers of their online courses reported better confidence at work.
Gamification, used in the Duolingo app, helps learners stay motivated to complete their language learning.
The Power of Repetition
Neuroscientist James Olds found that our brain thrives on patterns, and repeated stimulation strengthens neural pathways associated with certain knowledge or skills.
Impact on Learning Design
- Spaced repetition: Consider a series of modules that revisit and reinforce key concepts over time. Strategically timed learning experiences encourage long-term retention. Refresher training programs are a good example of spaced repetition. They help keep important knowledge fresh in employees’ minds, reinforcing learning and embedding more complex organizational procedures and processes.
Time boxing is a critical component for spaced practice exercises. The learning is scheduled into segments which include breaks and exercises for self-practice and make room for necessary distractions to break the learning monotony.
Designing eLearning modules using spaced learning, especially for learning new concepts, requires you to consider two critical factors: the frequency of spacing and how this spacing must be designed. For example, spacing can be adaptive, which provides learners with practice sessions in areas where the learner shows poor performance. Organizing information into summaries and checklists serves as a good reinforcer. Introducing a new module with a short recap of the previous module can also facilitate recall.
- Quizzes and Assessments: Quizzes in the form of knowledge checks are learning reinforcers, forcing the learner to recall information, and strengthening neural connections. Most online courses entail assessments and quizzes. As learning designers, we often intersperse our courses with topic-level knowledge checks to test the learners' understanding of the topic.
This flashcard app uses spaced repetition, presenting users with cards at increasing intervals, depending on how easily they recall the content.
Coursera and other MOOC platforms
MOOC platforms like Coursera reinforce learning by integrating assignments and peer reviews in their courses to facilitate and assess comprehension. They also have interim knowledge checks to facilitate learner’s retrieval of information.
Duolingo also uses an interesting approach of adaptive spaced learning, where, if the learner gets two consecutive wrong answers in a particular lesson, they are presented with a practice question to reinforce their learning of a particular concept—for example, the usage of verbs in a sentence.
Sensory Integration in Learning
In his book, “See What I’m Say See What I’m Saying,” Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum discusses the brain’s incredible multisensory processing abilities. Stimulating one or more or all five senses can lead to higher engagement levels in learners.
Impact on Learning Design
- Interactive Elements: Visual aids, audio narratives, tactile interfaces, or virtual reality can make learning modules more engaging and effective.
- Environment Simulation: There are certain fields where the environment plays a crucial role in the learning process, such as in manufacturing or healthcare. Here, creating a simulated environment using AR/VR technology replicating the working conditions can provide invaluable experiential learning.
Encora’s AR and VR digital learning solutions
Immersive technologies—principally including Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), and a broader spectrum that includes Mixed Reality (MR)—are revolutionizing corporate learning and development. Read this insightful blog for more information on how Encora is leveraging these technologies to create immersive learning experiences: Using Immersive Technology in Workforce Learning
Flight simulators (formerly launched by Microsoft) are used in pilot training to capture real-life flying conditions for hands-on learning.
The Social Aspect of Learning
Social learning theory was introduced by the psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1960s, who discovered that humans like to learn more with others. UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman, in his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” emphasizes our inherent need for social connections.
Oxytocin, a neurotransmitter responsible for cultivating feelings of trust and nurturing relationships, is triggered in a collaborative environment. High levels of trust at work can result in a 50% increase in productivity and a six-fold increase in engagement.
Impact on Learning Design
- Group Activities: Virtual group projects or discussions can foster teamwork and enhance learning.
- Peer Feedback and Discussion Boards: Learners who provide feedback to their peers online inevitably humanize the environment and build communities. Through peer feedback, learners learn and acquire different perspectives. Discussion groups are an effective tool to learn and enhance the organizational culture. Having learners take a more participative role in the training helps them take ownership of it. It’s accepted that informal learning makes up most of what we learn at work. The formal content only makes up roughly 10%. With discussion groups in place, you can start encouraging more impactful learning.
The MicroMasters programs from EdX have group projects designed to encourage global collaboration and shared learning.
The online writing community lets writers share their work and receive feedback, encouraging collaboration and rich peer input.
Learning changes the brain's physical structure in two different ways: it creates new neural connections, or it alters the existing connections, resulting in the constant organization and reorganization of the brain. Understanding how the brain works and how people learn helps learning and development professionals develop the best learning interventions for business environments.
Some points to remember
- Provide learning materials in different forms
- Ensure spaced repetition
- Design learning interventions based on the learner's expertise
- Encourage social interactions
- Provide feedback
As a learning designer, remember – When it comes to learning, the grey really does matter!
At Encora, we are committed to driving innovation in our promise to offer our clients an intuitive and immersive learning experience. From ideation to deployment, each learning solution is carefully crafted with design-led, user-focused processes and cutting-edge technology. With every solution we design, we strive to offer an impactful, human-centric learning solution that benefits our clients across various industries we cater to, such as HiTech, FinTech & InsurTech, HealthTech, Supply Chain & Logistics, Telecom, and more! Click here to find out more.
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