Training & Development For Dummies
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Research into how the brain works best has received lots of publicity recently. Brain imaging has given researchers the ability to see the brain as learning occurs. Even though cognitive neuroscience appears to be a hot topic, it is really confirming what Malcolm Knowles, Howard Gardner, Robert Gagne, and others determined decades ago: Adult learning principles are important.

What practical information have we learned from cognitive neuroscience that can help us as trainers? Here is just a sample:

  • A learning atmosphere can affect learning.

  • Chunking information into two to four smaller bites allows the brain to process the information in the hippocampus (the brain's holding tank) better.

  • Movement gives the brain a cognitive boost.

  • Participation such as writing, talking, activities, or involvement of any kind enhances learning.

    Recent research by a couple of Princeton University and University of California professors found that college students who take notes on paper learn significantly more compared to their laptop-tapping peers. The research found that laptop users type almost everything they hear, but they do not process the meaning of it. When students take notes by hand, they can't write every word so they listen, summarize, and gain meaning through the process.

  • Pictures, stories, metaphors, or other images increase learning and memory.

Many people have theories about how humans learn best. David Kolb, for example, presents four learning styles: the converger, the diverger, the assimilator, and the accommodator. Another theory was developed by W. E. (Ned) Herrmann. His research shows brain specialization in four quadrants and that each quadrant has its own preferred way of learning. Ned's daughter Ann Herrmann-Nehdi continues to expand her father's work. Current authors David Rock, Patricia Wolfe, Eric Jensen, and David Sousa write about how the brain learns.

Brain science resonates strongly with the learning and development community. Over 50,000 neuroscientists publish studies every year, and the studies sometimes contradict each other. It is a complex field, and there are still lots of exciting things to uncover about cognitive neuroscience. In the meantime, stay in touch with new research and implement what you learn in your online and traditional classrooms.

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Elaine Biech is president and managing principal of ebb associates inc, an organizational and leadership development firm that helps organizations work through large-scale change. Her 30 years in the training and consulting field include support to private industry, government, and non-profit organizations.

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