Neuroscience in L&D and the key concepts

Understanding some basics of neuroscience to inform your everyday practice is something that Stella Collins invites us to think about.

How do you feel when you take your car to the garage and the mechanic starts talking constant velocity joints or camshafts? If, like me, you spent your childhood helping your Dad to fix cars then you might have half a clue what they are talking about.

However, if you are like my daughters who do not know a spark plug from a sprocket you are potentially going to feel a little bamboozled. 

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My daughters know how to drive perfectly well, but if the car starts making weird noises or feels strange they have to take it straight to an expert at the garage and cannot begin to diagnose any problems for themselves.

In a similar way you do not actually need to be a neuroscientist to work with people’s brains as an effective trainer or L&D or OD practitioner. You doing doing a perfectly good job getting people from A to B without knowing how to tell a neuron from a glial cell.  

Having said that, it can be helpful to have a few key concepts underlying your practical skills to give you some avenues to explore if you hit a tricky area and so you do not feel baffled by experts. So here are four key concepts that you might want to explore further.

Neuroplasticity is an underlying feature of all learning because it is how our brains make new connections, prune unwanted connections and make long term changes based on the experiences we have. 

Whereas in the past people believed that your brain’s structures and connections were fixed in childhood now we know that your brain is much more malleable and ‘plastic’ in some aspects. This is what enables stroke patients to regain function so long as they have suitable rehabilitation.

What state do you want to be in for learning? State is a psychological term that basically describes the emotional and physical condition of your brain. When you are learning there are some states that are going to be more conducive to learning than others. 

States such as curiosity and alertness seem more obvious ‘learning’ states than, for example, deep sleep and yet deep sleep and dreaming are vital parts of learning because particular brain processes take place to consolidate memories. 

Helping your learners get into the ‘right’ state for learning can be as important as having the right content and it is something that you can have significant influence over.

Paying attention is probably something you were regularly asked to do at school and yet what exactly is attention and what do you need to pay attention to? If you are focused and paying attention to your own thoughts you may miss out on something useful in the external environment and how do you shift your attention from one thing to another? 

Focus seems initially like a more valuable learning state than distraction and yet it is very draining to your brain’s resources so what are the consequences of maintaining focus?

Memory is what makes us unique. Without memory we cannot form a sense of self or personal history and we certainly cannot learn new information or skills. Without memory we cannot even plan for the future and this may actually be a primary function of memory, rather than recalling the past. 

There are numerous different sorts of memory each doing a different job and often using different parts of your brain. Memories are not fixed but created afresh each time so they are very prone to distortion and change. What are the consequences of that for you as a learning facilitator?

You will find many places you can explore these key concepts in order to more expertly ‘drive’ the brains that you not working with.

About the author

Stella Collins is an author, learning specialist and director at Stellar Learning. You can follow Stella @stellacollins, email or visit 


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