Our brains never stop learning. Every second of the day, we are taking in data from the outside world, which helps us to adjust our approach to our environment, including the people we interact with at work or at home. Importantly, this process happens primarily at the subconscious level, which is dominated by our emotions and instincts, not our conscious thoughts.
Therefore, rational learning, such as classic textbook approaches or theoretical study, is less effective but harder work, as we can all testify when we recall studying for exams in school. Natural learning happens energetically and experientially. The more we are energized by an experience, the more it is encapsulated in memory and available for recall. As a result, learning through study or by following techniques that do not energize us will always be a struggle.
The brain processes data at the subconscious level at a speed that’s about one million times faster than what we can process consciously. It is this “underworld” that we need to access to accelerate the learning and development potential of human beings at both the individual and collective level. Then, we can maximize our personal and professional development and help others do the same.
Understanding Your Colleagues’ and Your Own Personal Learning Styles
A deep dive into the brain will reveal what we may call its key behavioral systems. There is a clear link between certain observable behavioral patterns and the activation of particular brain regions. These patterns provide valuable insights on many levels, including how we learn, a few examples of which are shown below:
Instinctive behavior is triggered in the basal system, the “reptilian brain,” located just above the brain stem. It has basic needs, centered mainly around survival and the opportunity to thrive. When engaged, it reacts swiftly and decisively. However, it is easily bored.
People with a strong instinctive style learn best in results–driven situations. If a learner has an instinctive style, remember that he or she doesn’t like procrastination or lengthy debate but, instead, to learn by doing.
Emotional behavior is triggered by the limbic system, the “mammalian” brain, situated in the center of the brain. People with a strong emotional style value relationships and energetic connection with others, and they are often creative and enjoy freedom of expression.
These people learn best in team environments, where they can bounce off the energy of others, so it’s important to create this learning environment or establish workplace practices that leverage emotionally motivated teammates.
Relational behavior is triggered by the cortex, the center of our thinking responses, which is situated at the top and sides of the brain. People with a strong rational style seek clarity and order and prefer to operate systematically to agreed-upon sets of rules. Whether you provide it or not, they will bring their own order to the challenges they face. They tend to be diligent and reliable but not always flexible.
Lastly, the reflective part of the brain is the pre-frontal cortex. It is located at the front of the cortex and enables it to connect directly with data across the brain, including rational, emotional and instinctive intelligence. The pre-frontal cortex is the center of our self–awareness. People with a strong reflective style like to learn by having the space to develop their ideas, so make sure to get out of the way of your reflective learners so they can thrive.
We all use each of these styles every day, but our life experience will have taught us to favor one or two styles more than others, depending on the situation. We are all a blend of these capabilities, but our own style is unique to us, and understanding it at a deeper level can help us and the organization we work for open doors to new learning.
Quantum Insights for Collective Learning
While understanding learners’ needs and preferences is helpful, we also need to understand interactive dynamics. Quantum insights (derived from quantum theory) enable us to more precisely understand energetic connection. Understanding the energetic forces that shape us subconsciously is vital in the next phase of human learning. For now, we will look at where it leads us in terms of practical suggestions for improved organizational learning:
We are all energetically connected as human beings, meaning that none of us can operate effectively in isolation from others. In fact, the opposite is true: The more we can share experiences with the people around us, the deeper our learning.
Therefore, it’s important to integrate learning into the daily challenges we face in our teams and communities. Each team needs a compelling sense of purpose and a clear direction. Sharing the lessons of a team journey is fertile ground for personal development.
Reflections and Feedback
There is great value in facilitating shared reflection. The trick here is to encourage it when the event being reflected upon is still fresh. A skilled facilitator can help promote an honest but non-threatening discussion. We have so much to offer each other in terms of insights and perspectives, but we normally don’t feel safe enough to lower our barriers. We are afraid of being hurt, and we hang on too tightly to our own narratives.
Organizations would do well to create systematic opportunities for people to share their reflections on their work experiences. Facilitate this sharing rather than organizing instructional sessions, and allow it to flow naturally in a conversational style. This approach will harness the power of storytelling, which is more effective in engaging the learning ability of the emotional brain than the communication of rational facts and requirements.
The prerequisite to the success of any of these strategies is the building of trust. Traditional command and control hierarchies mean that organizational trust has become a rare commodity, especially for cross-functional teams, where the demands of silos’ territorialism create barriers rather than opportunities. Humans who feel unable to trust operate in survival mode, which limits their appetite for engagement. We learn best when we feel safe and connected. Feeling distrusted limits us to compliance rather than genuine engagement.
Exciting times lie ahead, offering us the opportunity to vastly accelerate the development of human potential both personally and professionally. Neuroscience is at the forefront of this emerging horizon, and understanding how our brains and we as humans work can unlock a better understanding of ourselves and our learners to ensure happier people and stronger workplace engagement.