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Eight ways neuroscience can improve your training

Helen Mayson

A brain embedding learning

One of the many seminars at World of Learning 2015 was on developing new learning strategies from neuroscience from David Sales at Emergenetics. Helen Mayson rounds up their top tips

1. Build the different types of thinking into your experiences

Neuroscience says that we all have different thinking preferences – analytical, conceptual, structural and social. Effective training sessions need to be built to satisfy all of these types of individual behavioural preferences which requires some dynamism in every session’s planning and style.

2. Avoid ‘concerning’ the social

Our brains are wary of change – so be careful not to frighten your delegates before the training has even begun! How you position the training is important. Think of the SCARF model when you’re promoting and communicating about it.

  • Status
    How it’s positioned and pitched to staff
  • Certainty
    Give detail on what the training will entail
  • Autonomy
    Give attendees free reign and autonomy on how they interact with the training
  • Relatedness
    Make them feel a part of a group that is learning together
  • Fairness
    Think about how you position the training to those who aren’t on it – how are you treating people who haven’t been selected?

3. Experiential learning delivers higher retention

This idea has been around a while but the message still hasn’t got through. The experiential side of learning helps people to embed the messages and new skills much more effectively. Get them to practice what they do or need to do. Changing behaviours involves an element of risk, so if you can reduce that initial risk by allowing people to try these new behaviours for the first time in training, you’ve laid down the first attempt at a new neural pathway, making it much more likely they’ll try again in a live environment.

4. Learning consolidation over many months is vital

Create many months worth of reminders of the learning – this can be as simple as a weekly email, or spreading a three day course into three separate days across three months. Give people reference materials in a range of formats to play to different thinking styles, embed learning with coaching interventions and try using memory stimulus to bring the learning back to life – for example, a weekly quiz question.

5. Provide learning that’s easy for peer practice to enforce

How memorable are the tools and techniques you’re using? Make the language simple and memorable. Your trainer is also important, as a bad trainer can kill brilliant content. You want them to be engaging and to create an emotional connection with the learner.

6. Think global, act local

We need global programmes and tools to ensure consistency – but they need to be tailored to local cultures.

7. Set out to measure ROI

Appeal to the analytical thinking brains in your organisation by setting relevant KPIs and tracking them using scientifically based tools and techniques. There are a variety of them out there that make trainers more confident in being able to demonstrate the ROI in training.

8. Use modern tools and techniques, not ‘originals’

Keep up to date with your technology and tools in order to stay efficient and effective. Technological change is an asteroid – so don’t be a dinosaur wedded to old models when it hits!

David Sales is the Director of Emergenetics. He spoke at the World of Learning conference in September 2015 - you can see more content on the #WOL2015 hashtag on Twitter.  


  • Sarah Harvey

    No. 4 for me is where most training sessions fail to recognise the neuroscience.. or at least organisations don't use it to guide how the learning should be structured.  Neuroscience tells us that we only really learn things once we've slept on it and dreamt about it.  So if we truly want to see behaviour change we do need to structure the learning interventions in such a way that allows people to learn something, sleep on it and revisit it in a learning setting.  Powerful stuff but unfortunately because we're impatient and/or focussed heavily on cost, we don't build this in to our truing programmes often enough.

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