Science of Learning - Dr. Srini Pillay

Organizational learning professionals often emphasize concrete skills, practical strategies and business-relevant competencies. After all, budgets need to be tied to some kind of business impact. Yet, as we learn more about the brain, it appears that there is a new trend on the horizon: 95 percent of brain activity is unconscious—and in order to tap into the full potential of our leaders and employees, we have to train them to unleash the power of the unconscious. Brain-based education can help them do this.

The What:  While conscious, practical and deliberate strategies can be helpful, they are not the bulk of what is going on in your brain. Rather, being able to identify unconscious blocks to learning, knowing how to engage and how to tap the hidden jewels of the unconscious will likely be essential for learners and employees of the future.

The Why: With machine learning on the rise—from robots that can flip hamburgers faster than a line cook, to computers that can crunch data faster than the most brilliant actuary—linear thinking will become increasingly commoditized, leaving us with one precious attribute to rise above the machine: our unconscious mind. Those who learn to use this unconscious brain to become more agile, foster creativity and intuition, and adapt to fast-paced globalization will likely remain relevant.

The How: Teaching employees to activate the unconscious may seem daunting at first. How do we teach something that we are not aware of? Yet, when we reflect on the most recent findings in brain science, we see that this learning is not only possible, but in many instances, more productive. Consider these examples.

Unconscious obstructions to learning: Fear is a major obstacle in the current atmosphere of economic volatility. Even when you feel no actual anxiety, fear may be wreaking havoc on your brain. By teaching employees how to identify clues to unconscious fear, and then how to change their brain blood flow when these clues are identified, they can more effectively deal with roadblocks in their thinking or even procrastination.     

Knowing how to engage the unconscious: There’s a reason that many companies provide pods for napping and games to play. Unfocus is every bit as important as focus. Extensive research shows that unfocus helps to re-energize the brain, re-activates caring, and also enhances creativity. There are also specific techniques such as positive constructive daydreaming that can be learned to help employees make more efficient use of their time.

Tapping into the hidden jewels of the unconscious: Not all “simple” decisions are the same. Extensive brain research demonstrates that conscious, deliberate strategies like the decision to be more motivated are most effective when they arise from complexity and depth—that the value of the task, its relevance to you, and the conflicts it generates are most impactful on motivation.

In 2013, Gartner predicted that the adoption of brain-based learning would increase from 1 percent in 2010, to 10 percent in 2016, and then to 25 percent in 2025. Brain-based insights can help us challenge old ways of thinking and provide fresh new perspectives on learning. The hesitation in adoption is that few people understand how to integrate this learning.

However, if we are to remain relevant and rise above the machine as a competitor, brain-based learning is a powerful path we must familiarize ourselves with. It can re-educate us about our deepest potential beyond the automaton mentality of the Industrial Revolution. When we tap into this by learning brain-based concepts and conversations, we will access the more “tasty” and powerful bits of our consciousness to lead more purposeful, rewarding and productive lives.