Embark on a cognitive odyssey with Stella Collins’ groundbreaking work, “Neuroscience for Learning and Development.” In this illuminating exploration, we dissect the essence of learning, unraveling the mysteries of the mind to fuel your intellectual journey. Prepare to be captivated by the transformative potential that lies within the realms of learning.
Dive into the neurological wonders of learning and discover a path to enhanced cognitive capabilities. Continue reading to harness the insights that will reshape your approach to personal and professional development.
“Neuroscience for Learning and Development” delves into the intricate interplay between brain function and the learning process. Stella Collins seamlessly blends scientific rigor with practical application, offering a roadmap to optimize learning experiences. From understanding memory mechanisms to leveraging cognitive biases, the book equips readers with tools to enhance their learning journey. A masterful synthesis of neuroscience and education, this work is a beacon for those seeking to unlock the full potential of their cognitive prowess.
Stella Collins’ “Neuroscience for Learning and Development” is a tour de force in the realm of educational literature. The book not only demystifies the complexities of the brain but also empowers readers with actionable strategies for effective learning. Collins’ lucid writing style makes neuroscience accessible, while her insights redefine traditional approaches to education and development. This book is a treasure trove for educators, learners, and anyone intrigued by the fascinating synergy between the brain and learning. A game-changer that propels the understanding of learning into new dimensions, making it a must-read for those passionate about cognitive empowerment.
Neuroscience, Education, Cognitive Psychology, Professional Development, Training, Brain Science, Self-Help, Educational Technology, Psychology, Learning Strategies
Stella Collins, co-founder of the workplace training firm Stellar Labs, provides the latest neuroscientific research and concepts to help learning and development professionals understand the brain and how it learns. Her advice covers creating environments conducive to learning, and making learning “stickier” through motivation and storytelling. Collins applies neuroscience to learning, and then to translating learning to business performance. Her ideas are applicable to digital and live learning, coaching conversations and presentations. Facilitators and L&D professionals seeking scientific support to enhance their learning outcomes will especially appreciate Collins’s work.
- Neuroscience is a complex, ever-changing field.
- Learning occurs at a cellular level, consuming resources, chemicals and glucose to build neural networks.
- Curiosity and motivation spark learning.
- Your senses are the primary conduit for external information and essential for learning.
- Gain and keep learners’ attention by finding the right level of arousal.
- Learning involves more than absorbing and remembering information.
- Learning necessitates memorization.
- Review and reflection solidify learning.
- Tell stories to make learning stick.
Neuroscience is a complex, ever-changing field.
The human brain contains about 86 billion neurons. Neural networks process external and internal information necessary for communicating, thinking, learning and living. Your brain demands about 20% of your body’s total energy use.
“Even though you’ll come across information suggesting that one part of your brain does one thing and another does something else it’s usually more accurate to talk about networks or systems that do the work.”
Neurotransmitters – which are chemicals that include dopamine and serotonin – and brain hormones like endorphins aid your various brain functions. Brain imaging techniques such as MRI and PET fuel comprehensive understanding of the brain’s anatomy and functions. Neuroplasticity enables your brain to change as neurogenesis creates new neurons throughout your life.
A basic understanding of neuroscience and staying abreast of new discoveries applicable to learning can help all learning professionals. But you should always maintain a healthy skepticism toward emerging neuroscientific claims. Laypeople and the media oversimplify and abuse the term “research.”
This abuse fosters “neuromyths,” such as the persistent belief that memory naturally worsens as you age. Research often takes place in artificial situations, such as labs, with near-universal use of Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) subjects – people who may not fully represent real-world scenarios or neurodiversity.
“It’s a messy, challenging and exciting discipline that changes, shifts and moves, sometimes in tiny imperceptible steps and sometimes in huge lurches that change the way everyone thinks.”
You can critically evaluate neuroscience claims. When you hear the phrase “Neuroscience shows,” ask these six questions: 1) Who conducted the research? 2) Might they have an agenda? 3) Where did the research first appear? 4) How long ago is the published date of the research, and have there been subsequent publications? 5) How did researchers apply the scientific method? 6) What do the results suggest?
Learning occurs at a cellular level, consuming resources, chemicals and glucose to build neural networks.
Learning is not merely content delivery. It is a process that occurs over time within your mind and body, causing structural change in your brain. Not surprisingly, learning requires effort. Evolution encourages you to conserve energy, thus requiring you to experience motivation in order to learn something new. Lacking motivation, you will avoid wasting resources that you, consciously or unconsciously, believe you can better utilize elsewhere.
“…[W]hen you learn you change the way your brain cells, your neurons, interact with each other.”
Consider various types of learning when designing, training, teaching or influencing others to work or behave differently. Include repetition and using rewards and recognition for learning achievement. Explore the use of models such as “Brain Friendly Learning” and the “MASTER model.” Both use neuroscience to infuse learning content with meaning, and both apply proven memory techniques for retention.
Curiosity and motivation spark learning.
Curiosity releases dopamine, which focuses attention and can act as a reward. The right level of attention proves crucial for effective learning. You can help learners focus, raise their curiosity and reduce their stress by attending to their physical and emotional needs, including fostering social connections. Promote persistence in practice and repetition by encouraging exploration and playfulness. Persistence and play help learners remain receptive to new ideas and to create their own.
“When you help people become curious about something they will seek out answers for themselves.”
As a trainer, you should foster and create these conducive learning states. Stay motivated yourself, because your motivation helps sustain a positive, productive learning environment.
Your senses are the primary conduit for external information and essential for learning.
Whether you’re learning about the world, acquiring new facts, mastering physical activities, or improving soft skills like negotiation, attune your senses to the external world and to your internal state. Your brain processes information from an array of internal and external senses.
“There is no evidence to support the concept of multisensory or any other sort of learning styles.”
Each of the five main external senses has its own dedicated sensory area in the brain’s cortex. Except for smell, the other external senses – sight, touch, sound and taste – pass through the thalamus before undergoing parallel processing throughout the brain. They generate the rich emotional memories you associate with these senses. Vision usually proves the strongest sense in learning. Visual information such as images, illustrations and videos are crucial tools for making learning more engaging and memorable. Design your learning to engage as many senses as possible. This makes your material “stickier.”
Gain and keep learners’ attention by finding the right level of arousal.
Attention consists of “arousal, orientation and focus.” A learner must stay sufficiently alert to direct his or her attention to a specific stimulus and then focus on it. When something captures your attention, you enter a state of arousal, such as when a bus passes by or someone shouts. This external stimulus causes your reticular activating system, located at the top of your brain stem, to go on notice. It releases a burst of adrenaline, which travels throughout your body, heightening your alertness. Activity in other parts of your brain subsides as your parietal cortex instructs your brain to disengage from your current activity and focus on the novel stimulus. Your brain quickly determines whether the stimulus deserves further attention.
To enhance learning, you must entice learners to pay attention to the subject matter. Without attention, a learner’s brain won’t encode information into long-term memory. Human attention spans vary from about five to 20 minutes, but learners choose to refocus on the material that engages them sufficiently. Distractions damage attention span. For example, at the movies, you pay attention to a long film because the dark theater minimizes external distractions.
“The optimal levels of arousal, sometimes called eustress, are where performance on cognitive tasks reaches its peak. This is the Goldilocks level of stress – not too little and not too much.”
To increase attention levels, find the optimal level of arousal. Increase the complexity of processing, reduce multitasking demands, and determine whether multisensory input proves helpful or detrimental. Encourage people to enter a state of flow by challenging learners with tasks and content that are just beyond their current abilities and knowledge – but not so far beyond as to discourage learning.
Incorporate movement by having learners stand up, walk around and engage in physical activities. Promote more complex digital interaction, such as sorting instead of merely clicking. Direct attention to important points through questions, visuals and sound. Avoid boring learners by maintaining an engaging and dynamic learning environment.
Learning involves more than absorbing and remembering information.
After successfully taking in information through the senses, you must understand, remember and use that information to make learning stick. “Multiple Intelligence Theory” suggests that individuals may have strengths in specific areas, and that certain activities might prove more suitable for learning different subjects. This means you should individualize or personalize learning when possible, teach essential materials in diverse ways and move away from the term “Learning Styles.” Different people process information on the basis of their natural tendencies, experiences and the information itself.
“The great thing about the concept of multiple intelligences is that it is fluid; you can develop your intelligences by exercising them.”
Embracing multiple intelligences can enhance your design and delivery skills. Working with people’s preferences shows them you value them, and it encourages engagement. Harvard University’s Howard Gardner proposes eight intelligences: 1) linguistic, 2) logical-mathematical, 3) visual-spatial, 4) body/physical, 5) musical, 6) interpersonal, 7) intrapersonal and 8) naturalist. Consider these varied intelligences to adapt your approach, appeal to a broader audience, and to allow individuals to harness their natural strengths in learning.
Learning necessitates memorization.
Declarative (explicit) memories are those you can declare and discuss. Nondeclarative (implicit) memories are more unconscious or subconscious, and you face difficulty putting them to put into words. Your brain processes these memories differently. Understanding the difference between these memories can improve how you help people learn.
Declarative memory processing has four stages: encoding, storage, retrieval and forgetting. Encoding involves receiving information from an external format and converting it into electrical patterns for processing. This happens automatically, particularly when strong emotional, multisensory, novel or attention-grabbing elements form the learning material. Sleep proves vital for the storage of encoded information, and it enhances performance and learning. Retrieval involves reconstructing memories, which circumstances, emotions and learning methods can disrupt or distort. During this process, memories become unstable because new data or other memory fragments affect them.
“Despite the amazing amounts of research, the process of creating memories is still not clearly understood and there isn’t one unifying theory.”
To help people remember, link new information to things they already know. Novelty, repetition and meaning boost learning and memory. Novelty captures attention, while anecdotes, metaphors and analogies make information memorable due to their emotive and multisensory nature. Organizing information into meaningful chunks enhances learning and recall. Smell, often underestimated in learning environments, exerts a powerful force on memory and recall. Context plays a significant role. Returning to a physical environment can trigger the recollection of previously forgotten information – yet to learn and progress, you must forget certain prior learning and experiences.
Review and reflection solidify learning.
Learning effectively involves creating patterns of strongly connected neurons as in Hebb’s Law: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Keep reviews brief and engaging to activate and strengthen neural pathways without consuming too much time. Educate learners on the importance of strengthening their own neural connections with regular, independent and active reviews of important materials, including spaced repetition and learning.
“The evidence shows that you need to review repeatedly and space your learning out over a longer period in order to really retain it with any success.”
Memories tend to decay rapidly if you do not actively reinforce them. Regular and spaced reviews of the learning material – after a week, a month, and then two, three and six months – prove essential in building and sustaining long-term relationships between neurons and improving connectivity. Spaced repetition, which proves more effective than cramming, involves active recall and helps build long-term memory. Spaced learning entails repeating input three times, with 10-minute breaks between repetitions.
Tell stories to make learning stick.
Learners gain from memorable stories, and effective stories fuel learning. The narrative structure of a story provides a framework for incorporating information. The more intriguing, unique and elaborately detailed the story, the more effortlessly your listener will retain it and the information it conveys.
“When you are designing or delivering learning you want to use straightforward language so you can communicate even complex information clearly.”
Keeping your language simple and straightforward will improve audience comprehension and retention. Prime your listeners’ brains by focusing on desired outcomes and emphasizing compliant behaviors that encourage positive actions. Use multisensory metaphors to engage more of a learner’s sensory cortex, and to make learning experiences more stimulating and memorable.
Encourage an exploratory, playful and creative approach to learning. This helps learners better understand and retain new information.
About the Author
Stella Collins co-founded Stellar Labs and serves as its Chief Learning Officer.