Getting to grips with neuroscience

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 6 June 2014 in Interviews

While neuroscience is increasing in popularity, people need to know how to use it to their benefit, claims Jo Cowlin

The popularity of neuroscience continues to rise following on from the mantra that learning and development professionals now need to do more with less.
Continued pressure on L&D workers to provide tangible results and show they are meeting the needs of the business means they have a key role in empowering individuals – step forward neuroscience.
Speaking to TJ, Jo Cowlin, director at Bolt from the You Ltd, a people development business, says that while neuroscience is increasing in popularity, people need to know how to use it to their benefit. 
“It’s definitely something that’s prevalent within L&D at the moment. There is research coming through on it all the time,” she says.
“The power of this is in designing and creating learning interventions.
“There are loads of experts out there speaking and commenting on it but when you talk to organisations, they’re not really sure how to use it to their advantage – and in this instance, I think the power of it is probably underestimated.”
Cowlin, and her colleague, Lou Banks, talked about the benefits of neuroscience at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) recent L&D show. The importance of the emotional connection is something she’s keen to drum home.
“There’s a massive financial benefit to neuroscience, of course. You could probably cut down on some of the learning interventions that are taking place – it definitely has value.
“Organisations will start getting smarter about the way they design and engage the learners within the business. There is a massive advantage to be had.
“What we talked about at the show was how the emotional connection was very important. If you can strike that chord, the learning will follow. People will be far more effective. 
“Change creates anxiety for people because there’s uncertainty. When people are unaware of what’s driving anxiety, they just shut down. 
“There is something about slowing down to speed up. How many times do organisations really take the time to understand or listen to what employees have to say?”
And it’s the conversations which can help strike a chord, according to Cowlin. She says it’s important to foster that culture of curiosity.
“There is loads of stuff going on in the brain and it’s about being curious and knowing what’s going on. Understanding that means you can be flexible, pick that apart and learn what way to move forward from that.
“We tend to specialist in mind-set and self-awareness. If you can invest in that, you’ll gain rewards. You want to help empower people. You don’t want to keep sending them on training courses.
With increased self-awareness they can then begin to self-manage themselves. 
“If you’re helping people become more curious about their processes, they’ll be creating their own journeys and can then create their own physiology and understand what way they want, or need to go from there. 
“More than three-quarters of organisational learning takes place informally. That’s because people are making that emotional connection to leaders. They are learning without even knowing it.
“If you can impact leaders, they can consider their role in their teams and they can help pass that on. Role-modelling doesn’t cost anything. You don’t have to take people out of their jobs.
“To really change culture, role modelling needs to be at the forefront – it is a big hidden treasure. But the question is; do people really invest in those conversations that help that informal, unconscious learning? I don’t think this is done anywhere near enough.”
Cowlin believes in repetition. She says it’s a key point in trying to get your message across.
“The majority of people don’t go to work to ask what they’re going to learn today. Most people go to work and say they have a number of tasks to complete and they want to have a clear inbox by the end of the day. That’s how they see themselves as adding value. They don’t go to work to take on changes.
“We came across neuroscience accidentally. For me, you have to keep repeating stuff if you want people to take on new skills and adopt new behaviours.
“I think one of the ways is through education. We need to continue to draw them back to the risk that may appear if they just invest in one-off learning events. A lot of it is about educating them when you’re having that conversation, don’t forget that,” she concluded. 


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