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The neuroscience of engagement for effective learning

Delivering truly engaging experiences has long been a challenge for training professionals. But the world around us has changed significantly this year alone.

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The neuroscience of engagement for effective learning
October 1, 2020
The neuroscience of engagement for effective learning

Delivering truly engaging experiences has long been a challenge for training professionals. But the world around us has changed significantly this year alone. Workplaces are now remote and personal development is at the forefront of everybody’s minds. So, the emphasis on delivering engaging training has never been greater.

But truly engaging training requires more than gimmicks and games. To create impactful, meaningful experiences for learners, we must understand the neuroscience of learning, how the brain works, reacts and changes when learning.

Before we get stuck into why the neuroscience of learning will influence your training efforts, we must outline a resounding truth that is often overlooked: Humans are good at learning. If we weren’t, we’d have died out years ago. So, your learner can master the skill, knowledge or information you’re trying to impart. But it’s your job as a trainer, instructor or teacher to harness the skills that allowed humankind to evolve so successfully and apply it to the task at hand.

Optimising the learning experience

As trainers, learning designers and any other kind of L&D professional, we do not need to know all the ins and outs of neuroscience; we have different priorities. But the principle of evaluating and measuring evidence is valuable and all good learning design should be evidence based. As designers or deliverers, we need to question and check whether models, facts and information have a valid basis.

It is our responsibility to educate ourselves about the neuroscience of learning. For instance, there’s a huge amount of research out there now as to how learning is consolidated in our brains whilst we sleep. If we fail to take that into account in our design process, then we’re missing the opportunity to transform short term into long term memories. After all, retention is a primary aim of any learning experience.

Increasing knowledge retention

The first notable benefit of leveraging science-based learning is the ability to cement knowledge and skills into long-term memory. This is a process often referred to as making the learning ‘stickier’ (thus harder to forget).

In the workplace, we rely upon our ability to recall a memory and apply it to the situation at hand, however the importance of long-term recall is often overlooked. We forget that memory may be more important for predicting the future than remembering the past. Decision-making is ultimately a comparison between memories of previous experiences, which allow us to predict the most effective choice for the conundrum at hand. Thus, without our memories, our decision-making skills fall short.

Curiosity is key

To help foster memory building, integrate some guesswork into your programmes by prompting learners to take a shot at the answer before you tell them. This practice of guess work effectively ‘warms up’ the brain, ready to slot in the correct information when it’s absorbed, helping to build long-term memories.

What’s more, this art of guess work leverages the power of curiosity in learning. You’ll likely have heard the phrase “curiosity is key” and for a good reason. Curiosity means the learner is motivated, engaged and ready to learn. By being curious, the learner becomes self-directed, actively seeking answers, challenging, exploring and testing themselves. Plus, when we’re curious we release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Which means we’re more likely to want to repeat the experience again, fuelling life-long learners.

Enjoyable learning experiences

Delivering a truly engaging learning experience is about more than pass rates and test scores. Truly engaging learning allows our people to flourish and teaches them the world of possibilities when it comes to new skills, knowledge or information. But most of all engaging learning is enjoyable.

When taking part in a training programme that has incorporated the neuroscience of learning, learners feel like they are the centre of attention. They know the course has been designed in a way to best deliver impact for them and ensure they gain the knowledge, insights and experience they need. Ultimately, learner-centric, science-based learning experiences are more enjoyable. Engage with your learners on this intrinsic level and you’ll undoubtedly have a more engaged cohort of learners in front of you (or on the other side of your screen).  These are the people who will change their behaviours and use their new skills in work.

If you feel you’re ready to transform your training delivery and give your programmes the neuroscience advantage, check out our Train Smarter programme.

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