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e are all acutely aware of the significant investment organisations make in

upskilling their workforce through training. It makes sense, therefore, to ensure that we do everything in our power to help our learners remember, recall and apply what they have learned for it to have been a worthwhile investment on everyone’s part. For facilitators and trainers,

high-scoring happy sheets at the end of a programme may boost ego, but they do not accurately reflect that learning has taken place. Tat can only be measured over a period of time back in the workplace with observation of changes in skill, behaviour and attitude. Advances in brain imaging tech-

nology are revealing at a detailed level how we learn. With this new knowledge comes the ability to create learning environments that will enhance the learning experience and, in turn, increase levels of retention and application. So what are some of those

conditions that stimulate an enhanced, learning experience?

How do our brains learn?

“Learning is a process by which changes in your brain allow you to behave and respond in particular ways.” Stella Collins

Learning changes the physical structure of the brain. Tis is called neuroplas- ticity.1

When we learn something

new there is a firing and connection of neurons in a new pattern and it’s a big job for the brain – a bit like a stunt rider jumping over a canyon. Tis new learning is then stored first in our short- term memory then distributed (usually after a good sleep) in our long-term memory over a period of time. Te interesting aspect here is that the new memories that are created are compared to and ‘bolted on’ to existing memories and life experiences. We can use this knowledge in our training environments to enhance retention levels.

How can we create conditions for optimal learning?

Many of the conditions here are common sense, and you may be creating them already. What they all have in common is that they can contribute to the necessary neurological changes in the brain required for learning.

Sensory input We learn by taking information in through our five senses and there is no evidence that we have individual preferences for visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning, debunking learning styles as a neuromyth.2


may though have a preference for visual stimulus as the largest of all our sensory cortices is the visual cortex. If we want to maximise learning and

retention, we need to appeal to all senses when designing our learning environ- ment, especially the visual. Making the learning environment visually appealing with the use of posters, colour, light and pictures can enhance the process and enjoyment of learning. Studies from Harvard Medical

School have shown that memory is strengthened by multiple sensory

Multiple Intelligences Te concept of multiple intelligences4 was devised by Howard Gardner, pro- fessor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and he identified eight strengths or intelligences that we each excel in to differing degrees. Tis directly challeng- es the idea of IQ being the only measure of intelligence as we all excel in different ways. My husband, for example, would last less than five minutes in a traditional classroom environment, but take him outside and get him to work something out by pacing, measuring or using tools and he’s got it sorted! Here is a list of the intelligences

and how people display their trends. ``

Visual/Spatial – think in terms of physical space and are very aware of their physical environment. Learn best by being stimulated visually, creating images, imagining and visualising.

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There is no evidence that we have individual preferences for visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning, debunking learning styles as a neuromyth

inputs, so the more we can cater to the different senses in our learning environments, the greater the chance of retention, recall and application. Ways we can stimulate the

various senses include playing music or having learners create a song or jingle, having items available for learners to touch and feel (I always have Play-Doh in my learning envi- ronment and my learners love it). For smell you can use scented highlighters or food with a pleasant smell (I often use lemons and oranges in exercises). Beware of using scented oil or perfume as the part of the brain responsible for smell, the olfactory bulb, is located in the emotion centre of the brain and linked directly to memory, so we don’t for example, want a learner to be distracted as they are reminded of an ‘ex’ when learning something new. For taste you can offer something pleasant to eat or use food as part of experiential exercises (like my M&M’s game).3

Bodily/Physical – use their body effectively and skilfully, communicating well through body language. Learn best by ‘getting stuck in’ through physical exercises.

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Musical – show a sensitivity to rhythm and sound, sensitive to sounds in their environment. May study better with music in the background.


Interpersonal – strong communicators displaying empathy and understanding. Learn through interacting with others.

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Intrapersonal – work with inner feelings, strong reflectors and self- aware. Building in time for reflective practice is important for people with this strength. Tey are the most independent of the learners.


Linguistic – using words effectively and enjoy auditory aspects of learning. Listening to, or creating, stories is a favourite of this strength and using acronyms, mnemonics and rhymes facilitates learning.

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Logical/Mathematical – skilled in analysis, evaluation, calculation and reasoning. Will often ask multiple questions as patterns and connections arise from what is being taught. Tey enjoy concepts and complex problem-solving.


Naturalist – usually the most difficult to explain. People with this strength enjoy categorising, sorting and chunking, looking for similarities and differences so exercises that allow for this will be preferred by these learners.

 | may 2017 | 17

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