How to use Neuroscience for Learning and Development

How to use Neuroscience for Learning and Development

Organisational Success Podcast

Neuroscience is probably the most misunderstood and misapplied area of both science and within the field of learning and development. In this podcast, David talks with Stella Collins, author of the book Neuroscience for Learning and Development: How to Apply Neuroscience and Psychology for Improved Learning and Training. 



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About Stella

Stella is the Co-founder and chief learning officer at Stella labs in Belgium and is a pretty heavy duty learning and development consultant with over 20 years’ experience of L&D. Stella is also one of our members.

Neuroscience of Learning
Stella Collins

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Transcript – Neuroscience for Learning and Development

– Today we welcome Stella Collins. Stella’s the author of the book, “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”, how to apply neuroscience and psychology for improved learning and training, which has been published by Kogan page and it’s in its second edition. Stella’s the co-founder and chief learning officer at Stella Labs in Belgium, and is a pretty heavy duty learning and development consultant with more than 20 years experience in learning and development. Welcome Stella.

– Hello, nice to be with you, David.

– It’s an absolute pleasure. Do you want to just start off by telling us some more about yourself, what your background is and what kind of led up to writing the book, Neuroscience for Learning and Development?

– Oh, crikey. I’m a psychologist by training, a long time ago. I accidentally fell into Information Technology, became a program of quite a long time. And then at some point I was offered this hat, this role of tech support and trading manager. Tech support, no problem, could do that, fine. Training, I’d only ever experienced really horrible training. So I really didn’t want to be involved in training or be a training manager, but, you know, I had this job. So, I avoided it for question time. Took on a couple of very good people, one of whom really inspired me and got me thinking about training in a really different way and got me interested in the psychology of learning or kind of reignited my interest in the psychology of learning. And I suddenly realized actually I love learning. I love supporting people to learn. So I kind of quite comfortably moved into the field of trading, out of the field of pure IT. And worked for many years as a trainer, really practical trainer, but always checking, what’s the evidence behind what we’re doing? What’s the science behind what we’re doing? People give me these models and telling me these sort of, great stories, but actually, is there any evidence for it? So I was always kind of using that scientific background to go back and double check. And then I’d always quite fancied writing a book, always loved writing, written loads of blogs and written sort of white papers and things like that. And really it was approached by Kogan page and they said, look, we’re looking for somebody to write this book. They’d seen me speaking at conferences and things like that. And I said, yes. I jumped at the chance and really enjoyed the process of the writing, enjoyed collecting my thoughts. And as I said to somebody yesterday on Twitter, the process of writing a book is just like a fantastic learning journey for yourself because you suddenly answer all those questions that you always wanted to answer. So yeah, so out pen the book.

– Yes, exactly. I would agree with that. It’s an amazing learning process. And particularly, I suppose it’s a little bit like teaching in a way, you’ve got to do your research and you start answering some of the questions you’ve got.

– And I was very passionate that we made it practical. So whilst it really what the science in there, I really wanted to be the practical application of the science.

– Well, actually that leads on quite nicely to my next question. So how does the knowledge of neuroscience, what does it actually do for learning and development practitioners? And does it really matter?

– You can be a great practitioner without knowing any of the neuroscience. However, I think you can improve your professionalism, your capability, and the results you get by knowing a little bit about, people’s brains and how they learn. I think what you’re messing with brains, if you’re training people, that’s what you’re doing. You’re trying to change their brains, whether you know it or not. So I think it’s important that you do know a little bit about them. And I think what is enabled you to do is make good choices about your design and delivery methods. When you know there’s evidence behind what you’re doing, when you know this process, you kind of know how people get motivated and things like that that actually helps you make better choices about your design and delivery and helps you achieve the results that you want to get. So, it’s not fundamental. There are lots of great trainers out there, but they’re usually either copying what somebody else does, or they’re just kind of fortunate in what they do. But I think what this allows you to be as much more thoughtful about how you deliver what you deliver.

– Yes, and probably more systematic about going around the process of engaging learners, engaging their curiosity and having the outcomes that you actually want rather than leaving it to look, I think.

– Very much seeing learning as a learning process, not a learning event. You know a lot of people kind of get the, perhaps the, whether it’s face-to-face or the digital piece, the piece where you’re with the learner, they get that piece, but they don’t recognize that it’s actually a whole process before and after that, that the learner has to participate in. And actually, when you understand how learning happens, then you can actually facilitate that process much better over that long-term journey for the person who’s doing the learning.

– Yes. It kind of helps the design process to be more sympathetic to the way that people do learn and the way that the brain operates.

– Yeah, absolutely. And why make it more difficult for a brain? Why make it more difficult for a person to learn? It’s like putting square wheels on a bike it will still go, but it doesn’t go as well.

– Nice analogy, I like that. Yes. And in fact, some of the ways that we, as learning and development professionals, we go about designing learning in the way that we go about teaching or facilitating actually makes the process harder for the learner rather than a more natural process of learning.

– Yeah. And, you know, I’m sorry, but you know, standard school and standard kind of university practice is really not helping. And it’s really challenging to change that environment. I think at least in organizations, people are thinking a bit more about it from a practical, we can’t spend all day learning, we can’t spend all day sitting down, we’ve actually got to go and do some stuff. So actually they’re more inclined to actually put things into practice rather than just really build up a lot of theory.

– Yes. And in a way that doesn’t actually go very far both inside the brain largely because it’s just working memory stuff as opposed to, I liked what you were saying earlier, actually it’s creating change, not just change for the individual, but it’s actually new roadmap change, but we’ll come on to that. What are the things that intrigues me generally, and I think we’ve got similar backgrounds. So my first degree psychology was quite a chunk of neurology, which drew me to the book I think. And I teach learning. Well, I teach lecturers to teach it at the university here, which is one of my roles. So I’ve got a background in education as well. One of the things that does intrigue me is the kind of the sheer number of kind of neuroscience myths or neuro myths as it become that kind of do the rounds. Things like a belief in learning styles, the whole industry is built up around the whole idea of left and right braininess, if that’s the thing. And so what are your favorite neuro myths and what are the problems with them?

– So one of my favorites is the left brain, right brain myth. But actually some of the myths built upon those myths. So I think, for a while there was this myth that you’re either left-brained or right-brained, which is clearly not true. You have both sides of your brain and they both work together. They work synchronously and they work asynchronously, but you know, they need to be together. And then I think there was some people started saying, because they didn’t want to be seen to talk about the left, right brain difference. They would then say, there’s no difference between the brain. The left and the right brain are the same. They’re not different whereas they actually are different and they do different things. It’s just, they’re very specific different things. And in order to do a real functional thing, to read or to write, or to have a conversation, you actually need both halves. And it’s only when your either somebody’s neurologically damaged and they’re doing specific experiments, or they’re doing clever fancy psychology experiments where they’re deliberately preventing the two sides talk. Then you can see strangeness and weird things happen. But in your average person in an average day, they’re using both sides. So I think that’s a really interesting one. And the other one that’s really seems to crop up a lot at the moment is the whole dopamine is great thing. And dopamine is neither good, nor bad. Dopamine is totally vital, we need it. But we need the right amounts at the right time in the right proportions. So if you have too much dopamine in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can end up schizophrenia. You have too little dopamine in the wrong place, wrong time, you end up with Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine is an incredibly specific, very complex neurotransmitter in a very complex network that you need. So you can’t just say, oh, you know, great, I’ve had a hit of dopamine. Yes, maybe, it sort of helps people kind of get a grip on it, but I think they have to be really careful about that. You know, dopamine is good myth.

– Yes. And also it’s only one of a number of neurotransmitters is not the way I hear people talking about it as if that’s it. Well, I got a minute. Yes, precisely. So one of the things that I liked about the book or I like about the book is that it goes into the fundamentals of neurology. So if you know nothing about it, it’s a really good primer actually. And I quite enjoy it. It was kind of reforming some of the stuff for my degree many years ago and some more up-to-date stuff that I hadn’t covered in those days. And you’ve got a great chapter that’s entitled what to do when someone says, neuroscience says, particularly over claiming what the research actually says or an over extrapolation of the research. And one of the great sections that you’ve got or the six questions to ask when someone says, and we hear this a lot, something like, research shows, can you just go over what those questions are? Because I think it’d be very useful for people.

– So these are sort of six questions that if you use one question on its own, it won’t really tell you whether it’s genuine research or not. But it’s kind of when you use all six together, you can get a really good feel as to whether, is this something genuine going on here? Or are we just kind of, you know, is it a neuro method or is it some neuro height? So the first one is about, who did the research and what do they mean by research? So you often hear people say, we did some research. What they meant was they did a survey and that’s definitely not neuroscience. It’s usually not really science in my view either, it’s maybe social science, which is fine in itself, but is being clear, what do you mean by research and then who did the research? So has it been done by, you know, a reputable university with a great science department? Has it been done by a reputable company who are scientists themselves, that’s fine. If it has then that’s kind of checking the right box, but if it was done by Joe blogs down the road, who just happens to a board, a set of ERG monitors, you just might want to be careful as to what they’re saying. And then having established who it is, then you have to think what’s on their agenda. So for instance, big pharmaceutical companies are very good, they doing some fantastic research, but they’ve got something to sell you. So they are quite good at cherry picking the research that proves that their product is better than the other people’s projects. And right now we’ve got a lot to be grateful too, from pharmaceutical company, but they have something to sell. And you saw even universities now are usually funded by somebody. So what is on the agenda? What can you pick up from that? Where was it published? So if it’s published in a peer review journal, that’s probably fine. And I know there’s a lot of debate going on now about how to do peer review and should it be peer reviewed first on the internet and then sent to journals. Should it be done in journals first, then produced on the internet? But you know, if it appears first in the local paper or on your local radio one or something, then it’s probably not been peer reviewed. It’s something that is a piece of news. It’s not necessarily a piece of good scientific research. And then related to that again, is when was it published? Just because something was published a hundred years ago, doesn’t make it invalid. We still use the thought about having houses for getting curved. ‘Cause that’s actually, you can measure that, you can measure it again, it’s repeatable. If it was published last week, that might make it really cutting edge and really extraordinarily important, or it might just make it a weird outlier that somebody’s done a piece of research. So thinking about when it was published and how often has it been repeated, how much has that publication either been cited or how often has somebody else managed to replicate the study? And we do know with psychology, there’s an awful lot difficulty in replication. So we’ve got four, and number five is how was the science done? So one of the challenges with neuroscience in particular, so really pure neuroscience, is usually the groups of, I don’t want to call them, specimen subjects are very small. The Guinea pigs are small small numbers. And usually for very specific, very intense specific question. So it was quite hard to extrapolate that out to a bigger question. And this is one of the challenges that people who sort of say, well, we don’t like to use neuroscience in training. We’ll talk about it because they’ll say, but that’s only one tiny piece. And actually you’re talking about in a much bigger context, so that’s quite an important one. And then how was the research done? Were people doing double-blind experiments, which is great, but you can’t always do those. So I think it’s kind of how was the research done? And then finally, the last one is what do the results say? So most scientists will produce a result that says in these circumstances with these people and this, you know, it’s very conditional if they’re set this, and if that’s the case, then you’re probably going to get something that says, move forward. If this answers one small question, let’s take the next question forward. But if the results say this is fantastic, it’s gonna change our lives. And it looks like a magic bullet, it probably isn’t. So those are the six.

– Yes. And I just think it’s important that people, you hear these things research says and just saying what research by whom and where, and can we have a look at it? I think is really important because there are a lot of things that masqueraders as research. And certainly we come across an awful lot of articles and what are meant to be studies. And when we have a look at them, they’re either hugely biased because they’re by, say a consultancy who’s trying to flog something and that’s a common thing. So we see a lot of models that are kind of exist through there, or when you actually have a look at it that it’s been extrapolated way out of the context that it was conducted in. And it wasn’t for this reason whatsoever, and when you have a look at it, it’s actually gotten over liquidity in that context and that more research needs doing. And I think that’s it’s kind of a bit of a danger area for people who aren’t away and people start to accept things that, yeah.

– They take it, they accept it because it looks like an expert has said it. And I’m a hopeless at remembering citations. So I know I work with some people and they can just, you know they can list off a group of citation. I cannot do that, but I know if I read a piece of research, I’ve kind of got the gist and I could dig it up and find it again for you. And I usually, if I come across an interesting piece of research, then I look for something else that contradicts it. Has anybody said this is rubbish? And then you’ve got to compare the two, but not everybody has the time to do that. So I think that’s why we need things like the Oxford Review who do that research for you, do the checking for you.

– Yes, I think it’s important. And that’s the whole basis of having space practice anyway. Okay. So obviously the book’s in its second edition and it’s like dense and thick and there’s in all the right ways, of course. And we can’t do anything but scratch the surface in a discussion like this. And there’s a lot of really great content in here. And anybody in learning or learning development, or is just interested in neurology of learning should really have a look at the book. And the great thing about this is it gives us license to delve into some of my favorite areas. So let’s start with curiosity. What is it and why is it so important in this story of learning?

– So, what is it? I guess it’s the desire to explore, to experiment, to test, to find out more, it’s a very human condition. And for me, it’s the starting point and the continuation point for all learning. If we get curious, if we can support people to feel curious, if we can help them feel curious, you don’t really need to do a lot more. Maybe prompt them to do a bit of reflection afterwards, but you know, if people are curious, they will investigate. They’ll go looking, they’ll find answers to their own questions, which is much easier than trying to tell people, you will learn this. You know if they’re saying tell me, tell me more, I want to know more. Then you make your job as a learning facilitator, a million times easier, but you make the learning job easier and this is where dopamine does come in because we do get a shot of dopamine when work here. So when our curiosity is kind of satisfied, we do get this kind of feel good. Oh, I’ve learned that this thing. But I think curiosity is also, one of the things I’ve discovered about curiosity recently, and I just think this is a really lovely thing to discover. And again, it’s related to the dopamine. So yeah, there are many other neurotransmitters out there, but dopamine is important one for learning. Apparently if dopamine is high at the back of your nucleus accumbens, which is tiny for part of your brain, then you feel fear. If dopamine is high at the front of your nucleus accumbens, then you feel curiosity. And I love that balance. And I think it’s a very brain thing that, you know, our brains aren’t one thing or another, it’s always this kind of interesting balance. It’s a Seesaw. Do I feel fearful about this? Or am I curious? And how can you shift perhaps from one to the other and curiosity supports learning, but fair actually suppresses and decreases learning for all kinds of reasons.

– Yeah. In interest to actually, interestingly, I was reading a paper must have been last week, looking at elation, the feeling of elation and the connection between learning and that moment of realization, you know when you get that aha moment that, and how closely connected those two things are, and it becomes quite addictive that we become addicted to those kind of aha moment, those realizations. And we kind of see that, see some of these coming up in things like the TikTok videos of things that surprise at the end, similar kind of thing happening. But from a learning and development point of view, just being able to think through how can I set out the conditions with the learners so that it feeds their, that that helps to generate curiosity. How can I ask questions that help to generate curiosity? And you’ve got section in the book about that. And then how can we actually move that forward into these moments of realization? Because those moments of elation actually turn people into having a positive orientation towards learning generally. And that becomes quite an important part of the learning process.

– And we do know that dopamine is part of our reward pathways. So that is helping you feel rewarded for learning. And then as you say, it makes you want to learn more and learn other things and broaden. You know curious people tend to be quite broad in their curiosities. Some people have real specific ones, but pretend to be quite broad, they’re curious in lots of things. And it’s quite easy to increase your curiosity. Just find out something new every day, go a different way to work, expose yourself to new ideas. And that doesn’t mean you’ve always got to go looking for amazing new things, but just walking a different route to work each day, or maybe just picking up a different book to the store you normally pick up and read something different. I think one of the things with learning is there’s a sort of, there is a school of thought that says you don’t need any information to learn. You can just learn by experience. But I think curiosity shows us that a little bit of knowledge is actually really valuable because it shows us what we don’t know.

– Yes. And it’s that mixture between experience and knowledge, but also that a large part of this is what in the research we call social mediation of learning. What that means is discussing it with people because it’s that not only, and I know we talk about activating pathways and things, but when we listen to other people’s perspectives on things, they say things that you go, oh yeah, I didn’t think about it like that. Ah, what we find is not only do we do interact with knowledge as an outside thing that comes in, we’re actually actively creating knowledge. And it’s that process that also then starts to lead into some of the reward centers to the activation of the dopamine pathways and things like that.

– Yeah, absolutely.

– So another area of intense interest in many organizations and learning stubborn establishments is this idea of psychological safety. And I’ve got kind of three interlinked questions here about this. What is it? What is psychological safety? Secondly, what’s it got to do with curiosity. And lastly, what’s it got to do with learning?

– So psychological safety is that feeling that you are, able to speak up, your views will be valued. You will be respected, fought for your thinking and that you won’t be slapped down, told off, told you’re stupid , feel ridiculous. So it is that, what psychological safety does is it leads to much more open communication. So that then leads to more curiosity because you’re able to share more because if I share it with you and you don’t tell me I’m stupid, I’ll feel more inclined to share with you and I’ll be more inclined to listen to you too. So it leads to a much more open communication. I know Google as an organization did some research on this and they found that, they kind of looked at high performing teams to see what was the difference between high performing teams and low performing teams. And what they found was it was this psychological safety that went on. When people in the organization in the team felt capable, speak-up, felt valued and felt able to challenge as well. That’s another element of psychological safety. If you hear something that sounds, I really want to investigate that, then they found that those teams are the ones who were performing better. And one of the things they found was that they were making more mistakes than the other teams, but when they did dug deeper, what they found was cause they were trying more things out than the other teams. So yeah, they made more mistakes, but they learned from those mistakes and actually had far more, they were learning more.

– Yes. And I also think part of that, the psychological safety piece is, just the feeling that I can ask the stupid questions without being guarded about it going who is that, just even stupid question. And what we find is when people are free to just ask, whatever comes up into their heads is that they create more realizations that have more learning as a result of that.

– Yeah. And if you’re feeling anxious, your focus becomes much narrower. So you can’t that the broader, you can’t see the broader picture. Whereas if you’re feeling more comfortable, more confident, your outlook is wider. You can listen to, you might ask, I might ask you a question, but I might notice what the other person is, how they’re looking, which will actually give me more information. Whereas if I’m nervous and I’m just asking you this question, I’m not gonna look over there. So it just broadens the whole perspective we have.

– Yes. I think that’s really important. In fact, I was involved in a couple of pieces of research quite a few years ago now. Looking at peripheral awareness and learning and anxiety and the way that anxiety creates what we call cognitive tunneling, it kind of narrows our focus. It stops us listening and physically stops us listening. If anybody’s been involved in a car accident, for example, quite often you will have no memory of any sound because the sound has being cut off. And so, we get this kind of moving in effect of both our physical focus, so our visual focus, but also our cognitive focus. And we move into these kinds of cognitive tunnels and we stopped listening. And this has a huge impact on things like organizational change. So when people are anxious and frightened, they’re not engaged in the periphery, they’re not learning things and they’re not experimenting. And if they find it hard to do those kinds of things, and yet when they feel more comfortable and greater levels of psychological safety, which is the example you were giving with Google, the high-performing teams, ability to experiment and just try something and see what happens and learn from it and communicates.

– And share it. So you reduce that silo mentality, you reduce that this knowledge is our knowledge. You know, actually this knowledge is available to everybody and let’s share it. And then that might, I know I’m at science conferences now, they used to be quite limited. And the psychologists would talk to the psychologist and the neuroscience would talk and the physicists would talk to the physicists, but there’s much more mixing now. And people are beginning to see really interesting connections between different branches of science that are really leading to interesting insights.

– They are certainly at the university and the research groups. So over the 30 or 35 years that I’ve been involved, we’re seeing much more multidisciplinary research groups where we’re seeing physicists and chemists working with psychologists and educationalists, which when I first started in universities a long time ago, that would never have been the case right there. Okay. Let just move on a little bit. So one of the big issues right now is kind of online or remote learning. So my question too is this, and I know that is part of the update in the book is how does an understanding of neurology help with online teaching and learning?

– So I think it helps us to understand the differences for people when we’re online. Because there are differences. There are some, I think there are some really good things I think online, can help to democratize learning because everybody can be online at the same time and having the same level of input. So, I think I’m definitely a fan of good online learning, but there are some differences and we need to therefore be aware of what those differences are to accommodate them. So some of the things that science has shown that online learning has has changed, or online use generally digital, our digital world. One is we’ve become poorer apparently kind of in depth reading. So we’re really good now just scanning, you just scan the headlines, you scan the Google, you scan whatever it is, scan Wikipedia. We’re really good at that, but we’re actually much, well, not everybody, but, we are challenged with reading more deeply and a lot of people do learn a lot of stuff from reading. So I think that’s a challenge that isn’t to do with the digital learning itself, but it’s to do with the impact of being digital. Sleep disturbance is a big one. You know that disturbance, that the light from our digital technology has now sometimes people will say to me, hey, yeah, but they’ve now got blue filters and blue screens, so you don’t have the same impact of the light. But actually digital technology is designed to be attention grabbing interesting and fascinating. And that is not what you need just as you’re about to go to sleep. You actually need to be a bit bored and a little bit kind of like falling, dropping off. So I think, and sleep disturbance is terrible for learning. If you don’t sleep after you’ve learned something or after you’ve had something input, it won’t go into long-term memory. There’s so much evidence to show that. So sleep is usually important. I think other things that has shown up are that people now are quite good at knowing where the information is, even if they can’t recall the information. So their knowledge now is about where do I find it, not what is it. Which is fine if you’ve got time to find it, but if you’re having to deal with a life-threatening emergency or any kind of you’re in a meeting and you think, I know there’s a really good model for describing this thing, but I can’t remember what it is. And I therefore can’t use it right now because I can’t go and Google it while I’m in the middle of the office. So I think that’s an interesting one that has an impact. And then I think the key one is the distraction. So I already kind of referred a bit to that in terms of sleep, which apparently leads to not only are you not necessarily paying attention to stuff, but there’s some research that shows actually leads to lack of insight or loss of insight into the learning process. So when people have been, they tested learning, and some people were distracted and some people were not. And the ones who were not distracted actually had quite a lot of insight, not only into what they’d learned, but how they learned it, which is valuable. And the ones who’ve been distracted kind of knew the information, but they weren’t aware of how they’d learned, they weren’t able to reflect. They didn’t have that metacognition ability to understand how they’ve got there. So those are all challenges that we need to be aware of and therefore need to adapt to in order to make digital learning valuable.

– Yeah. I think that’s important. And in fact, I was at a meeting at the university talking about this very thing yesterday, and one of the things that was we were looking at this issue of distraction of the student and engagement of the student. And one of the things that we’ve kind of realized, and we’re just doing a bit of research looking at it at the moment, is that there’s a big difference between going into, one of the activities a lot of learning development people do is put people into groups and zoom teams and all the rest of it have a function for allowing that. But then comes the question is, is it having the same effect as online as being in person? And the answer to that seems no, it’s not exactly the same process, and it doesn’t have the same effect on the learner. So some of the things that we’re noticing that are occurring online, that don’t tend to occur, I mean, in person. So there’s going back to this idea of social mediation, of learning this idea that when we talk about it, we get a full picture of it. We become more engaged in what this thing is, and like what it looks like, and from different angles and things. And we’re finding that that’s not occurring to the same extent online and in these groups. And there seems to be something about interpersonal connection that seems to be involved in this. And we’re not sure why yet, but there does seem to be a big difference between online grow or a difference anyway, between the learning that’s occurring in online groups and the learning that’s occurring in face-to-face groups.

– And another piece of a really interesting research I was reading, and I really could do with diving deeper into it is about the fact that as humans, we’re very used to seeing people, hearing them, smelling them, being able to sense their presence, the kind of the waves warmth or not that come off them, their physical movement we’re very aware of that. And one of the challenges apparently with, zoom and things is we haven’t got all that information and our brains are kind of going around looking for it and they can’t find it. So our brain knows there’s something not quite right. And it’s causing that kind of cognitive dissonance, which again is, if you’ve got cognitive dissonance that shrinks you down again, because you’re not certain what’s going on. So there’s some really interesting stuff that I think that is being investigated as throwing up.

– Yeah. In fact, that’s one of the explanations that people talk about zoom fatigue. That’s one of the explanations for online meeting fatigue is that there’s the cognitive load is extra online because we’re searching for all that information that’s missing. And it’s harder to create those relationships online compared to face-to-face because of all that extra information, even if the videos it’s not the same. Yeah.

– Yeah. And the video can be distracting, you know the video, because if you were having a real conversation face to face, you’re really focusing on the person. Now, if somebody were to walk past your door there, my eye will be drawn to it. Whereas in real world, you’d be much bigger. You’d be in front of me. And there is more for me to look at, or to process by looking at you and I could miss what was going on next door.

– Yes. In fact, I saw a really, and I haven’t, it was just kind of. In fact, it’s just happened. That was my son See you later. Well, I guess it was really, I haven’t, I just kind of passed my eyes as it was going through on research briefing. I’ve completely forgotten where I was then. What were we talking about?

– We were talking about distraction and cognitive overload.

– Overload, yes. That was it. And oh, yes. And it was talking about cameras and what you can see and what people look at whilst they’re on zoom meetings, for example, and this study was looking at, they said they had sensors looking at the eyes and it was in a company and people spend most of their time looking at themselves while they’re talking, not looking at the person who’s the recipient, which I found was fascinating. And how that must change the communication. I don’t know what else that’s saying.

– Make you more self-aware of yourself, which maybe beneficial or could be harmful.

– Yes, it’s very interesting. And of course if you turn off your video, so you can’t see you then not as can the other person.

– I know. And that was one of the things that we were talking about, which is to do a lot of students these days don’t like having their cameras on whilst they’re being taught, which causes problems then for the lecturers and for the teachers, because they’re getting no none of that feedback, but anyway, that’s by the way. So if you were to choose one area that you think neurology can be helpful for learning and development professionals, what would it be practically out of it?

– I think memory is probably the most, do I say memories the most important one? I think now I’ll tell you which one I think is most neglected at the moment. And I think that’s the importance of our whole integrated bodies in terms of learning. People think it’s about giving you information and we can do that through video or poetry, but actually we learn best when we integrate everything. So I think it’s about increasing the use of movement and other sensory input. So how can we introduce more sensory input and again, a challenge with digital, but even things like using sensory language, using sensory metaphors and things can at least tweak those parts of the people’s brains that are processing sensory stuff. So using visual imagery, using visioning and things like that, but using all kinds of metaphors and it’s been shown that sort of thing does stimulate people’s brains more than just talking in very abstract, fluffy words that nobody can get a grasp on. So yeah, I think that’s actually a very important one. That’s probably not enough work done on.

– I agree. And I think quite a lot of L and D professionals kind of focus on the brain’s stuff rather than that realization, that we’re as a series of learning systems and not just one. So we’ve got like, just going back to Bloom’s stuff around cognitive learning systems, affective or emotional and value learning systems and psychomotor learning systems. Even at that basic level is that realization that they’re not separate learning systems, they’re interlinked and connected. And I think that understanding can actually transform a trainers or a facilitator’s practice actually.

– I mean, we’ve definitely found, I’ve observed over, I was going to say thousands of years, not many thousands of years, but a long time. If you encourage people to stand up and have a conversation, call them over to sort of map out a model on the floor, for instance. And you put the model on the floor and you get them to stand in the model. What we found is that the quality of the questions from the learners, from the participants and the quality of the conversations is far greater than if you did that on a white board or whatever else or the way you did it. And I am convinced that is because they’re standing, they’re feeling more energized, they’re feeling more engaged and there’s something communal about all being doing the same thing that it’s probably a psychological safety thing as much as anything else that allows them to ask those kinds questions.

– Yeah, it’s a big, in fact, so my background before academia was in emergency services. And they use an awful lot of simulations in their training to actually go out of the classroom, to go and experience what it’s like being in this process to experience what it’s like being with a team, but also to debrief in that, in the context rather than debriefing outside of the context has been found to be very powerful.

– Yeah. Contextual learning is enormously important. And so often we take people out of the workplace and put them in a classroom and expect them to then take it back. I once worked for the company who were training people to clean trains, which is a pretty physical job on the whole. And it has certain visceral aspects to it, you may or may not want to know about, but they were teaching people to do it using PowerPoint slides and then wondering why the trains weren’t being cleaned.

– Yes. And in fact, that’s a big issue in all training is that transfer of learning into the workplace. And some of that is context, a large part of that is contextual. And certainly understanding, not just the neurology, but understanding some of the evidence behind learning and teaching can help to create bridge that gap in terms of transfer. Okay. So whilst I know this, the books aimed at learning and development professionals, what about the learner? And this is a horrible question to ask you, I get that. But if there were three things that learners can do to help to create change, which is what learnings about at the end of the day, what would they be?

– To help learners create change for themselves?

– Yes. I’m gonna give you six, but I’ll do it quickly and I’ll link. Just because it makes it easy for people to remember. And this is about helping your learning and memory in particular. So first of all, link to what you already know. So don’t just try and learn something without connecting it, link it to what you already know. So what you’re going to get at the end of this six is the mnemonic learns so L for link. E for use emotion, find the emotion in whatever it is you’re trying to learn, you know, and it could be something really boring. It might be Excel spreadsheets, or it might be health and safety. But if you don’t do this health and safety training, what might be the impact, get some emotion in it. Pay attention. Attention is that the gateway to memory? So if you’re not paying attention, you won’t remember, as you said earlier on. Repetition, repetition, repetition, that is how we strengthen on your own. You have to keep repeating. N is for novelty. So find things that are novel and new because our attention is drawn to novel and new things. So find ways of doing things new or look for new information. And then the last one is S which is the stories. Use stories, create stories, build your own stories, because stories linked to what create emotions. You pay attention, you repeat in them. And they usually, you can always find something new in a story. So if you’re a learner and you’re trying to do something learns, it’s the thing to remember.

– I really like that. And well, it’s all linked anyway, because one of the things that I teach the lectures to teach at the university, and one of the things that I say to them is that we leave stories behind, but at the cost of the learner. Our brains are pre-programmed for stories and for narrative, it’s the biggest industry on this earth. So for that reason, now all the books, all the magazines, all the films, Netflix, even the news, doesn’t present news in a series of bullet points. It even goes to the extent of sending some poor hack out into the rain and the slugs to tell a story because they’re part of the story, it situates it. And it’s situating things into a narrative is a critical process for learning both from the teacher trainer, coach, whatever that happened to be angle of situating, the learning into a narrative. But also if you are a learner being able to create a narrative for themselves. Yes.

– Every learner loves to tell a story, or most learners love to tell a story. And most people like to hear a story as long as it’s not too long and too complicated. I think practice the art of short stories, telling quick stories, I think as a trainer, that’s a really important thing to be able to do.

– Yes. And if you think about good stories of good books, going back to the curiosity thing is that they do is they open out with some form of dilemma that then needs to be solved, which is a really good way of engaging learners, I think.

– Yeah. Always give them a puzzle to solve.

– Yes. We love problems. That sounds weird.

– There’s some really interesting evidence that shows that if you ask somebody to guess the answer to a question, they are more likely to remember the answer. Even if they get the answer wrong so long as you give them the correct answer or they achieve the correct answer quite quickly. But if they guess the answer, they’re more likely to remember it than if you just tell them. So always, just explain to people, I’m gonna ask you a question and I’m going to get ask you to guess, and if you guess it wrong, doesn’t matter. Cause you’ll still remember it better than if I just tell you.

– Yes. Actually I saw that paper not so long ago. That’s brilliant. Okay. As I’ve said earlier, there’s so much in this book and it’s really difficult to do it justice in just a short kind of interview. And I’ll post a link to the book in the show notes. However, if people want to contact you, what’s the best way of doing it.

– They can contact me through my email, which is [email protected] or I’m on Twitter as stella Collins. And I’m also on LinkedIn as Stella Collins.

– Perfect. We’ll put links to all of that in the show notes. It’s a really great book in it. Obviously I’m a little biased because I’m in the area anyway. And if you’re in learning development, teacher, trainer, facilitator, or even a coach there’s a lot here that’s going to transform your practice. It’s kind of like the primary that I wish I’d had years ago. And I’ve gotta be honest here. So to add up to a little bit of jealousy is the book that I wish I had written.

– Oh wow, thank you David, thank you so much.

– It’s really cool.

– That’s a real compliment. We also run programs too.

– Cool, I’ll have to have a look at those. I’d just like to thank you so much for your generosity, with your knowledge, expertise and time. Thank you so much.

– It was a pleasure. Nice to meet you again.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page