Using cognitive neuroscience to maximise learning can help us understand memory structures and decision-making systems, and create experiences with a long-lasting effect.
Dr Dror, an expert in cognitive neuroscience from Harvard University and currently working at University College London (UCL) and Cognitive Consultants International (CCI-HQ), addressed an audience during a morning seminar at the CIPD Learning and Development Show 2016.
He explained how analysing skills, judgement and decision of humans can improve performance.
“Start with the brain. Understand how the brain processes information. It doesn’t matter what you want them [learners] to do, it matters what the brain does. Just because you or they want to do it, doesn’t mean that the brain will let them.”
Dr Dror used the Stroop Effect excitement with the audience to highlight the above and about cognitive effort to achieve something.
He said: “Brain is active. Don’t present to them and expect them to absorb. The brain has limited computational power. The brain can not process all the information coming in, no matter how intelligent or focused you are.
You are going to take on a fraction of the information. There is an instant mismatch between the information the brain can take in and what it can process.”
“This had an implication in any domain. Such as police trying to identify a pick pocket or suicide bomber. The same with infirmary in a training session or elearning module.
“It’s your job to give the information that is reasonable in terms of their brain processing, interaction and so on.
“The problems are not with the eye when you show information, it’s how the brain will process it, represent it and remember it. The most important element is the human brain, this is cognitive neuroscience. It’s not up to the learners to learn. It’s up to us to give the information in a brain friendly way for them to focus on the learning.”
The learning examples you give are critical. The brain uses this in many circumstances. The same example, what context do you present them in, what order? In different orders people learn things differently.
He explained how we learn by doing and that active learning was better than passive .
“I want to take that to another level. Three critical perspectives Acquire [info] – > maximise. Memory – > able to retrieve
“There is a fiction or illusion of training when people pass a test and get a tick on the LMS. They don’t remember. You want them to apply, remember and change their behaviour.
“Apply – > use and have behavioural impact (maximise transfer AND generalisation)
“These the perspectives are cognitively distinct, yet they are intertwined and interdependent.”
During the seminar, Dr Dror asked a member of the audience to list the months in a specific order out loud for £20. Since the person was unable to do this, Dr Dror repeated the months of the year in alphabetical order.
He said: “We can’t do this in alphabetical order as we learn it chronologically, that’s in our brains. To do it alphabetically we have to ‘scan’ the game months into our short term memory and then speak them.
“The details of what we teach and how we teach it make a difference to how people remember it and what they can do with it.
“Not all learning by doing is created equal. You need challenge. You need surprise as it shocks the brain. It captures cognitive attention. It takes this attention away from the phone and so on.
“Emotional learning is a continuum, from subtle to extreme. A subtle thing is that you can tell them a personal story. It engages them and uses episodic memory. The next step, show them photos.
“More extreme on the continuum is for learners to experience errors (sabotage!). The power of error in the brain is that we remember the errors and it changes our behaviour. It’s wonderful when we make mistakes! We learn so much. Set them up to make mistakes.”
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