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recently, then you’ve probably been keeping your head low, because it’s everywhere. Most conferences include something on neuroscience and many of us are learning more about how our brains work and how we can help other people learn better. But what exactly is neuroscience

and how can we be sure what we’re hearing isn’t just neurohype? Neuroscience is a complex,

multidisciplinary science defi ned by the Society for Neuroscience as “the study of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and networks of sensory nerve cells called neurons. It is an interdisciplinary fi eld, meaning that it integrates several disciplines, including psychology, biology, chemis- try, and physics”. Some people suggest it also includes elements of computer science and artifi cial intelligence but whatever elements you include, good neuroscientifi c evidence is based on well tested, scientifi c experimentation, research, debate, testing and peer reviewing. In our fi elds

of learning and training there’s lots we can learn from neuroscience and many people and organisations are already adapting

34 | may 2017 |



Neuroscience or neurohype? Stella Collins has been applying psychology to L&D for 15 years – she can tell the difference

f you haven’t been to a talk or read an article on neuroscience in learning

the ways in which they learn and train based on this evidence. But there are some risks to this

current fascination because some people are inappropriately using neuroscience as a way to back up pet theories or models. Just because something has ‘neuro’ in its title doesn’t necessarily make it neuroscience. I often hear people use neuroscience and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in the same breath as if they were synonymous, but the only real connection is the word ‘neuro’. NLP has some useful tools and

models, some of which may have foundations in psychology but others have no signifi cant scientifi c credibility. Models can be helpful and if something works, keep using it, but it’s not OK to use the label ‘neurosci- ence’ to explain it if it isn’t science. Recently I had a conversation

with a colleague who had been shown ‘evidence’ to back up MBTI with so-called neuroscience. Unfortu- nately, while the researcher had been using the tools of neuroscience, he had not used scientifi c methodology to validate his results; electroencepha- lograms (EEG) showed particular parts of the brain were stimulated under diff erent

conditions which the ‘researcher’ said validated his

theories about MBTI. But in fact he’d ignored any data disproving his theory. Just because you’ve got the tools doesn’t make it neuroscience. It’s the equivalent of putting a search into Google for “Donald Trump is a genius” and fi nding lots of articles saying he is (try it – it’s fun). T is tendency to look for evidence supporting what we already think is called confi rmation bias and while it’s reassuring to

Stella Collins is the author of

Neuroscience for Learning and Development (Kogan Page). Visit and follow her on Twitter @stellacollins


Just because something has ‘neuro’ in its title doesn’t necessarily make it neuroscience

fi nd evidence to back up what you already believe, it’s not scientifi c. One of the many benefi ts of using

neuroscience is to add validity and credibility to what we do as learning professionals so we can back up our practice with evidence. For instance, it becomes much easier to justify why you can’t squeeze a four-day workshop into a two-hour briefi ng if you can explain cognitive overload and the importance of spaced repetition to learning. If we’re to use evidence to

make the case for great learning experiences, then we need to make sure we understand and use reliable neuroscience data, otherwise we’ll undermine our own credibility as learning professionals.

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