The Nature of Work Is Changing, and So Does Employee Experience: Interview with Brian Kropp from Gartner
The Neuroscience Behind The Successful Talent Development
The approach you’ve chosen for your training program is crucial in the success of the L&D strategy, which is vital for a company’s growth and important to executives, as the efficiency of training affects productivity.
It’s crucial to correlate a training platform features and user experience with the specifics of the human brain and mind at work—only in this way can your learning strategy be resourceful and effective. Today we want to share some most interesting findings in neuroscience that’ll help you to understand how the human brain works and how your training platform should be structured to boost the learning outcomes of your employees.
Neuroscience: A brief intro
When you learn a new skill, your body—your brain, specifically—is changing its structure. Here are some core elements that the human learning process is based on.
- Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to transform its neural structure when we do, learn, or experience something new and get used to it. In other words, it’s the brain’s adaptive capability.
- Neurogenesis is the production of neurons.
- Neurons are our nerve cells.
- Synapses are structures between neurons (or neurons and other body cells). Through these structures, neurons “communicate” with electric or chemical signals.
If we learn to do something, our body creates new neurons that “communicate”, creating new neural connections. If the learning is efficient, the connections between neurons strengthen and signals run through them faster, and we see that we can, for instance, start to speak Spanish without effort: it’s in our long-term memory now. On the contrary, if learning is not efficient, and we, for instance, fail to practice Spanish regularly, freshly established neural connections weaken, the signal slows, “conversation” stops, and you remember nothing about this language.
When implementing training, make sure that the learning system takes into consideration the principles of how neurons of new skills “talk” to each other.
Active learning is key
Let’s dig deeper into how we learn. There are three areas involved in the brain’s processing of learning, which are the neocortex, hippocampus, and amygdala.
Areas of the brain, involved in the process of completing cognitive tasks
Most educational programs are based on “bottom-up” learning: students passively perceive information and then they define where to use it. This process is proven to be not very efficient: the productive “digesting” of new information requires volition, attention, planning, and predicting. These are our brain’s executive functions, processed by the neocortex, and there’re no such functions in passive learning. That is because it “starts” from an emotional response to proposed information—from the amygdala. If the neocortex isn’t involved, learning includes no volition, evaluation, or analysis of the task. Therefore, much less communication with the hippocampus occurs and formulated memories are weak.
So what can make training efficient enough to develop long-term memory and use all the advantages of neuroplasticity? The active learning. Neuroscientifically speaking, active learning is a “top-down” cognitive process: all three brain regions are involved in it. Subsequently, it starts with a volition in the neocortex, “saves” a decision to learn in the hippocampus, and ends with emotional response.
The main principles of active learning
Companies like Tesla believe that it’s crucial to consider neuroscience when designing and developing training programs in order to increase the efficiency of employee learning and boost their personal and professional growth. The following aspects of active learning can be implemented into your “brain-based talent development strategy”.
Volition. Decision-making is vital for efficient learning, so you have to give employees volitional control over their training and follow their decisions about what they think they should learn. As most people would like their employer to provide them with the possibility to improve their expertise and learn new skills, they will most likely already know which path they’d like to take and what they’d like to learn.
Long term goals. Decisions aren’t possible to make if you don’t know what they are for. Research showed that learning is more effective when people focus not only on what they have to learn but also on how it can help them to achieve real-life, long-term goals. They also pay more attention to receiving goal-relevant information. In the workplace, a training program should be coherent with employees’ personal objectives, which will focus and engage them in acquiring knowledge.
Practice. As you understand, our brain learns and memorizes things based on the principle “use it, or lose it”. Include practical tasks in your training program so that employees can apply what they already know to real life. Real-life training, immediately applicable to everyday work situations, is proven to be most effective.
Engagement. Engagement regulates the level of involvement of your employees in the learning process. The more they’re involved, the better their results are. To build engagement, make sure that any new facts, skills, or concepts they’re learning are meaningful and usable. Only in such a way will they be able to use new information properly and build associations, necessary for memorizing. Provide your training with case-based exercises and work-related context; make it performance-based and data-driven.
Real-time reality checks and feedback. The obvious thing: feedback is important. Training feedback is a source of information for modifying training, making it more employee-centric. Reality checks on employees’ progress help to understand which stage of obtaining new skills they are at. With that information, you can evaluate their progress, direct them to the next steps, and give them additional information, if needed. Reality checks should be done quite often, the best practice is to divide training sets into small, coherent pieces, and collect feedback on each of them continuously.
Personalization. In the book Mind, Brain, and Education researchers note that people’ achievements arise from their individual interaction with instructional techniques. They write that issues of educational programs—as well as training ones—often arise from following the standard curriculum, which is structured by “one-size-fits-all” model. Such an approach loses a host of participants, “because it doesn’t take into account the different ways they learn” or different backgrounds. It’d be fair to conclude that automated personalization in the development of a training program is needed for successful employees’ performance outcomes. To deliver personalized training, gather as much data as you can: feedback, performance, operational, and any other available data will be useful.
Motivation and empathy. Personalization is the bedrock of motivation. In the above-mentioned example, one can note how motivation and engagement increase employees’ results. From the diagram above, you can see that active learning “ends” with the amygdala. The amygdala in the human brain is responsible for the emotional response. Multiple neuroscience studies showed that emotions and learning are interdependent, so the connection with employee’s emotional state and the perception of oneself (which includes, for instance, self-esteem) should be considered in developing a training program. If employees think that intelligence and skills are fixed, they won’t perceive mistakes as opportunities to learn. (“Oh well you see, I cannot do anything about that; that’s just me.”) By analyzing their performance and learning preferences, you can help them with personalized training that could be as simple as changing the training delivery method from reading long pdf files to watching short videos. And that will be an empathetic move; it would improve their productivity and, therefore, their perception of themselves as being more successful.
Mnemonic exercises. Some people joke that the one who teaches knows nothing, but in reality, it’s the opposite. The principles of active learning include the recapitulation of obtained knowledge and skills. This means that good training includes an option to teach others. Mentorship will give employees the opportunity to refresh “conversation” in-between their neurons (as aforementioned) with new points of view and challenges. To teach other colleagues properly, they’ll have to simplify what they already know, taking a more generalized approach to specific topics and chunking information and make training practical and immediately applicable. In general, this is a great exercise for the cognitive function of the human’s brain.
Keep science in mind when designing L&D strategy
By following neuroscientific principles, you can develop an effective approach to the learning and development strategy in your company. Choose or develop training solutions that are coherent with the above-mentioned principles as they better fit employees biologically and sociologically if implemented correctly. This will help you to build a strong, long-lasting culture of learning that will directly contribute to business prosperity.
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