How to turn Brain Strain to Brain Gain
The competition for the attention of our audience is more-fierce now than at any other time in human history. There are just so many distractions; push notifications, instant messages, snapchats, wearable technology that beeps and buzzes, not to mention the plethora of streaming services that lure us in and turn us into binge-watching zombies. Our brains are quite literally straining with all the choice and our students are being conditioned to seek “just in time” solutions that tend to be non-linear in their application. Put simply, they want what they want, when they want it.
So how do we hold the attention of these students and help them to be “present” in our training? There are some hints from the latest brain science research that can help us on the journey. Here are some of the key concepts:
- Learning is an active process. Whenever possible students should be involved in their own learning. Rather than being passengers, we need them to be drivers. Learning is not something that happens to them, it should be something that happens with them. Whilst there is nothing new in this narrative, the latest research continues to support that learner involvement is critical in reinforcing long term retention. However, with an increased focus on assessment and compliance, some organisations are forgetting that the learner experience should be central to the program rather than teaching to tests and capturing narrow evidence. Students are more likely to burn new pathways in the brain if they can connect the theory to a personal experience. In addition to this, participants must have adequate rest, health and physical ability to undertake the tasks we set.
- Psychologists and neuroscientists who study the brain tell us that the brain goes into a trance approximately 30% of the time, even when doing crucial tasks. Therefore, when delivering training, re-engaging the brain is necessary, not optional. This means that when we design learning programs, we should include activities and actions that stretch and energise the brain on a regular basis. These could include non-content related exercises like puzzles, brain-teasers and word problems as well as content-specific activities such as poster-work, scenario development and fault-finding tasks.
- It is important that we recognise the myth of multi-tasking. Only about 2% of people in the world can generally do more than one task well, simultaneously. For the rest, they multi-switch. This means there is a great chance of missing key learning when switching between each task and this will have a profound impact on both comprehension and retention. The brain is already wired for compartmentalisation and we can support this but breaking key content down in to easily digestible parts and then focusing on one part at a time. We should also be careful not to create situations where we inadvertently require students to multi-task. For example, asking them to watch a video clip and take notes. In this instance, it would be more effective to show a portion of the video and then pause it at regular intervals to allow students to discuss the key points at their tables and then write down a summary in their own words. Finally, getting their full attention when learning something for the first time, will make a huge difference to the success of their learning.
By Marc Ratcliffe