Using Neuroscience to Maximize Learning: Why we should start paying attention to the Research

In October 2015, I had the privilege to have a discussion with Anne-Maree Hawkesworth, Technical Training Manager of AstraZeneca, Australia before the 2015 GMPTEA Biennial Conference kicked off. Anne-Maree was in Orlando, Florida to present her concurrent session entitled Insights from ‘Inside Out’ – Employing lessons in neuroscience to facilitate successful learning” during the conference. As an avid fan and follower of the neuroscience literature being published, I was hungry to learn more and she generously gave up a few hours of her time to meet me with over a latte and a nibble of delicious chocolate from Australia.   What follows is a snippet of the exchanged dialogue.

Q: Why has neuroscience become so popular all of a sudden?

Actually it’s been around for a while. It’s not new, even though it sometimes seems that way. For example, look at Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve that is so frequently referenced. It was first introduced 1885. And there are other classic research studies available if you conduct a good search.

Q: Why do trainers need to pay attention to neuroscience and the recent literature?

Quite frankly, they need to start learning how to design their training using these principles. They have to stop lecturing from the slides and speaker notes.

Q: Okay, then what do they need to know?

Concepts like chunking, memory techniques, and the effects of multitasking. Multitasking is very bad for learning. You end up learning nothing. It becomes a waste and yet we are multi tasking now more than ever. For example, management is expecting us to do more. For example, take an e learning course and answer their emails while taking the course!

V- this means the design has to change.  AMH- exactly!

Q: We need help. What should trainers tell Management about neuroscience?

That less is actually more. Stop requiring us to dump more content in slides. We end up remembering less. If you won’t believe us, there’s scientific evidence to back up what we are saying! And don’t dictate how we use the classroom. For example, I have my learners standing for most of the sessions involving activities that I facilitate. In one of my sessions, I had removed the chairs from the room and used ZERO slides.   Imagine that! Oh and I love flip charts!

Bonus Tip: AMH shared a little secret with me. She revealed that Production folks like to do flip chart work. They just don’t want to be the spokesperson. So if you can get them past that, they’ll love being busy writing on the chart.

Q: I noticed that you didn’t include motivation in your slide deck. Was that intentional? How are they related?

I only had 60 minutes, but yes motivation is so very important. We have to keep them motivated to learn. We have to continually grab their attention.   It should be one of the 12 principles.

Q: Earlier you mentioned Chunking. What trends are you seeing in micro learning? Are you implementing any of it?

I am looking at small chunks of learning at the time you require the learning as opposed to “Just in Case” learning that tends to occur months in advance.  Micro-learning is great for follow-up to formal class room or eLearning to boost memory. I like micro-learning in the form of case studies and in particular branching scenarios. Cathy Moore has some great material on her blog and webinars on branching scenarios.

I also like to chunk information within my training and use lots of white space to help separate pieces of information, this helps in facilitating learning.

Q: I work with a lot of Qualified SME Trainers from Production.   How do you get past the brain lingo when you explain neuroscience?

You explain that there are parts of the brain that do different things at different times. There is no need to turn the session into brain science 101. I show them a slide or two and them move on.

Q: Earlier you mentioned “principles”. Can you elaborate on that?

I’d love to but we are near the end of our time together. I can recommend trainers look up John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules.  Briefly they are,

  1. Survival
  2. Stress
  3. Attention
  4. Sensory Integration
  5. Vision
  6. Exploration
  7. Exercise
  8. Sleep
  9. Wiring
  10. Memory
  11. Music
  12. Gender

Alas, I could have dialogued with her for the entire conference albeit, she was jet jagged and the latte was wearing off.   Thank you Anne-Maree for sharing your thoughts and effective classroom delivery techniques with us.   Together, we will shift the classroom design mindset.   -VB

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