Q&A with a brain scientist part two: the impact on corporate learning
Last week’s blog post was the first segment of a 2-part series detailing my discussion with Dr. Alice Kim of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, a premier international center for the study of the human brain, along with Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.
This week’s post gets into more detail around the application of the latest in brain science research on corporate learning:
Q: Does accommodating different learning styles or preferences lead to better learning?
Dr. Kim: ‘Learning styles’ refers to the idea that people learn information most effectively in different ways. For example, visual learners are expected to benefit most from lessons that use images and slideshows, whereas auditory learners are expected to benefit more by listening to lectures. This may seem intuitive, because people typically have specific preferences about how they like information to be presented to them. Along these lines, a popular idea is that the best way to teach is by catering to the preferences of the learner. However, it’s a misconception that trying to match knowledge delivery to someone’s personal learning style or perceptual preference, translates to better learning. It’s a very popular theory in education and a lot of people believe it, but there is no scientific evidence to support it. On the other hand, there’s a lot of evidence to support other proven strategies that training providers should be paying closer attention to, such as spacing out content and practicing retrieval. These are methods that are supported by scientific research and have actually shown results.
Q: What are some of the issues with corporate learning today that this latest research can impact?
Carol: Over the past few years, many corporate trainers have started to realize that ‘big event”, or “one and done” training sessions don’t work in the way they need them to – they don’t result in learning transfer of critical information employees need to know to effectively do their jobs. Until recently however, there weren’t viable alternatives to classroom based or online video instruction. Fortunately we now have at our fingertips the information and technology to completely disrupt the learning environment so we can map everything to the way our brains are wired.
Q: What are your top tips for trainers seeking to make use of how the brain works to create more effective training programs?
Carol: Trainers need to take all of the content they need their people to know, and chunk it down into bite-sized, easily digestible pieces. The brain is great at acquiring 4 to 5 bits of information at a time. And then, person-by-person, deliver those pieces in a method that drips it over time, is highly personalized, and also fun and engaging. There’s no reason why it can’t be fun. Effective learning no longer involves putting bums in seats for half a day or more, expecting people to leave the room and retain 100% of what they just went through – our brains don’t work that way; it’s just not possible.
Q: Can we expand on that point a little bit more? How does engagement and the fun factor lend to retention?
Dr. Kim: It’s the idea of ‘wanting’ to learn. If someone doesn’t ‘want’ to learn, it doesn’t matter how many times you put the information in front of them, they won’t take it in. They may not even be paying attention. So providing the initial learning motivation inspires most people to want to continue to learn, which is inherently satisfying. And it makes people feel good. Tying the learning event to something that feels good is another way to enhance retention, because it provides the initial engagement mechanism to get them into the program. This pays dividends, as the motivation self-perpetuates and eventually become internally driven.
Carol: I totally agree. Once they start to engage in the learning experience and see tangible knowledge acquisition, learning becomes its own motivator.
Dr. Kim: They can do their jobs better. And that makes them feel better, which is a natural motivator to continue learning. What I really like about the Axonify platform is that it really is on an individual basis. New questions are asked based on how previous questions were answered. Often times in traditional training scenarios, people are left behind if their personal learning path is not the average. Or, if they’re too far advanced they get bored and they stop listening and disengage. You now have these two opposite ends of the spectrum who are not actively engaged, and one by one they disconnect from the training. A significant percentage of the learning group can essentially miss out. But if you deliver content through a platform that works on an individual basis, everyone stays engaged, everyone stays challenged and motivated to continue.
Q: How are advancements in technology and brain-based learning principles helping organizations to change the way they deliver their training?
Carol: By leveraging the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience, we’ve been able to successfully develop new adaptive learning technologies that work in a way that actually matches how the brain processes and retains information. By employing principles of reinforcement and retrieval-based practice, we can now establish unique learner profiles, identifying and working to close knowledge gaps specific to that person. This highly targeted approach ensures sustainable knowledge retention through the creation of a personalized learning model.
Q: So are we reaching a point where we can marry an understanding of the brain with the evolution of technology so that each employee will have a training solution that nearly perfectly matches the way his/her brain works? What do you think the hopes are of having something like this in the near future?
Dr. Kim: I don’t think a 100% match is ever going to be an option. You’d have to know absolutely everything about a person’s life – all of their external and internal influences— but we are getting close. The advances in our scientific understanding of how the brain operates, and advances in neuroscience in regards to how the brain encodes, retains and retrieves information, has given us enormous insight into designing better learning experiences.
Check out this quick read for more insights on how to tap into brain science to maximize training effectiveness.