shutterstock_227580421For too long, corporate training has focused on teaching, rather than on learning. This is the fundamental reason why so much corporate training fails: the way it is presented simply doesn’t have anything to do with the way people learn.

But as demands for training increase — not just training that satisfies butt-in-seat compliance requirements, but real training that leads to real results — learning is finally being acknowledged as the real goal. Over the past few years, there has also been a huge amount of new research into the brain basis of learning, which has lead to a host of new and more effective teaching strategies.

Here, we’ll look at some of the research behind brain-based learning and discuss how technology-enabled learning, like massive open online courses (MOOCs), fits with this research. We’ll also look at some ways to effectively implement brain-based learning in MOOCs.

What does the research say about how the brain learns?

Neuroscience has revealed a lot about how the brain learns. Here are three of the key findings and what they mean for training.

Brains like novelty

Our brains are wired to detect change. Novelty triggers the dopamine system, which is widely known as the brain’s pleasure center, but it is also involved in learning and memory. Basically, when dopamine is released, the brain knows it’s time to pay attention.

The implications of this for training are clear: hour-long lectures don’t activate many dopamine systems. If you want people to learn, you need to change things up, and that means more than just moving to the next PowerPoint slide. Well-designed MOOCs have plenty of variety — videos, readings, discussions, simulations, interactions, etc. — which provides the novelty our brains need.

Brains like spaced repetition

Our brains are not computers. You can’t just stuff in more information. We also forget, so repetition is important. Studies have shown that people who are exposed to the same information multiple times learn better when those exposures take place over time, rather than all at once. In other words, you will remember a paragraph better if you read it four times over the course of two weeks than over the course of 30 minutes.

Traditional training sessions are run over a few days or maybe a week…and then learners are expected to remember what they learned until the next training, which may take place a year later. Fat chance! MOOCs, which take place over weeks or months, allow for spaced repetition, which means learners at least have a fighting chance.

Emotions affect the ability to learn

There are two sides to this one. On one hand, positive emotions are associated with better learning. Lessons and activities that are relevant and engaging produce positive emotions, which involve the dopamine system, which leads to better learning. On the other hand, negative emotions like stress and boredom impair the ability to learn.

MOOCs can simultaneously increase positive emotions and decrease negative ones. Learners work on real-world problems that are relevant to their jobs and, because MOOCs are a pull rather than a push method of training, learners can choose to participate during the times they are most engaged. This also helps eliminate any stress individuals may feel about being away from their desks at inopportune times.

These are just a few of the neuroscience findings that apply to learning. Explore the topic more fully here and here.

How can you apply the principles of brain-based learning to online courses?

Because of their format, online courses are perfect environments for applying the principles of brain-based learning. Instructional specialist Abreena Tompkins performed a huge meta-analysis of brain-based learning research and developed an online course design model based on her findings. Her model is called IGNITE:

    • Intervals. Activities should be presented in intervals of about 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a break.
    • Grouping. The brain works best in small chunks, so you shouldn’t present too much information all at once.
    • Novelty. Make sure there is enough change to prevent wandering attention.
    • Interconnectedness. Learning needs to be relevant and connected to the reason for taking the course.
    • Technology and time. Select the appropriate technologies and give students time to do the work.
    • Environment. Pay attention to the emotional environment to keep it positive and free of stress.

MOOCs can satisfy these design requirements:

  • They use bite-sized learning that presents information in small chunks.
  • They use a variety of formats for content delivery and collaboration.
  • They focus on relevant knowledge and skills.
  • They use different technologies depending on the content and the learners’ needs, and they allow learners to control the pace of their learning.
  • They promote a positive emotional environment through agency and engagement.

The goal of training is not to teach (at least it shouldn’t be!). The goal of training is for employees to learn the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs better. More than traditional training formats, MOOCs seem to be able to provide the positive, engaging, and relevant experiences that are required for real learning to take place.

Copyright 2015 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual. Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson
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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.