A lot of discussion surrounds the consideration of different learning styles when designing learning programs. Some people learn more effectively by seeing; others prefer hearing. Then, there are those who prefer reading and writing as educational tools. However, there is little evidence to support this approach to learning. In fact, most professionals either regard this approach to learning as a myth or agree that learning design should incorporate all styles.

Still, most brain experts agree that the brain changes in differing ways for different people. Age, gender and psychological traits all impact brain responses over time. If this is the case, what are some fundamental brain-based principles that may better inform learning design, and how can you implement them in your programs?

Put Rational Learning in Perspective

For simple things, like learning how to use a new piece of software, following instructions may be enough. However, when complex leadership decisions are made under uncertain circumstances, the rational brain is a weak instrument.

Action: Change your organization’s approach to complex problem-solving by emphasizing that all rational approaches require engagement on an individual’s own terms. Phase out the use of rational strategies for complex problem-solving matters. To enhance engagement, present rational frameworks in user-centric experiences. Use your business approach to customers with your learners, too. Ask them what they want and build this into the design.

Don’t Expect Facts to Shift Thinking

People do not live their lives by factual evidence. They cling to their beliefs. For example, in 1975, social psychology professor, Lee Ross, and his colleagues demonstrated that, when results are initially reported inaccurately then accurately at a later time, people still hold on to the initial information. Numerous other studies have confirmed this tendency.

Action: If you want people to change their behavior, aim for deep change rather than instruction and data. Design learning that allows people to explore their beliefs and how their beliefs differ from the facts. Then, ask them to design actions to honor their new beliefs. Forming new beliefs is essential for new action.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

When you want to teach people how to navigate new systems or operate outside of siloes, don’t expect practice to make much of an impact. A recent meta-analysis by Princeton psychology professor, Brooke McNamara, and her colleagues demonstrated that, among success factors, deliberate practice only makes up 4% of the “success pie” for education and less than 1% in the workplace.

Action: People are not automatons. Pay attention to how they practice rather than how many times they repeat the action. When designing learning, ask yourself: “How might they be more engaged with this practice?”

For this reason, experiential learning is important. However, the experience should mimic the real-life challenge and should take the following factors into account: How relevant is this learning? How congruent is the learning with students’ needs? How interactive is the learning?

Make Unfocus Part of Learning Design

Too much focus can drain your brain of energy, create tunnel vision, prevent you from seeing upcoming opportunities and limit your creativity. Your brain needs breaks between periods of focus to allow your resting mind to piece together new information.

Action: Five to 15 minutes of napping can give you one to three hours of clarity. Doodling can enhance memory. There are many other unfocus techniques that can improve learning as well. So, build napping or doodling breaks into your learning design. This will help learners absorb and retain information more easily.

The learner’s needs are important when designing learning. However, the emphasis should not be placed on preferred learning styles. Rather, emphasize creating learning programs that are user-centric, engaging and congruent with their beliefs. If you really want learners to absorb and process information, ensure that strategic unfocus is included in your learning design.

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