Accelerated learning - the amazing brain

Having dispelled some of the myths around accelerated learning my research has led me to develop what I call the “5 secrets of accelerated learning”. They are not really secrets, as they can be found, if you look hard enough in the popular texts – it is just that from reading a number of them, I found it hard to extract exactly what I have to do to accelerate learning. So, from my research, the 5 key things that you need to accelerate learning are:

  • Business focused and learner centred objectives
  • What the facilitator has to be, know and do
  • How to cater for those lovely learners
  • What makes a great learning environment
  • The quirky ways in which the brain works to help learn better

David Meier’s 4-phase cycle fits in beautifully with all of this when designing any new learning as the process begins way before any design starts and finishes with follow up and imbedding the learning. Alistair Smiths cycle is great for planning how to introduce a new topic and in what order. I have adapted it slightly to make it easier to understand this 8 stage process.

The more I understand about the brain, the more I realise I don’t know. It is an amazing organ. Understanding a little about the brain, though, can help you tremendously as a trainer. I have been reading a book called “Your brain at work” by David Rock.

This book has allowed me to “join the dots” with some of the principles of accelerated learning, especially the importance of repetition in moving learning into long-term memory.  For instance, when you are learning something new, this happens in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is very energy hungry and can only store a very limited amount of information. As soon as this is overloaded information starts to leak out. So we need to learn how to not overload it.

The basal ganglia is that part of the brain that deals with routine tasks, things that are familiar. If you are learning something for the first time, trying to find a pattern or something, which is familiar, will help to transfer the information into long-term memory.

As an example, in IT training begin by helping the participants learn some quick tricks, for example some shortcut keys. You can achieve this, with some repetition and allowing the participants to use these short cut keys in some practical exercises. Once they have learnt something that becomes almost automatic, it moves into the basal ganglia. This is why some people are able to knit almost automatically without much effort. Moving stuff into the basal ganglia, releases the prefrontal cortex to begin again with that higher thinking that new concepts and theories will need.

Engaging the motor cortex or the visual cortex while learning new things, can also lighten the load on the prefrontal cortex. This is why having engaging visuals can aid learning. Writing notes, engages the motor cortex, and will help ease the load on the prefrontal cortex. Thus having a workbook, where participants occasionally write down what they have learnt, will help cement the learning.

Those of you who haven’t got time to read David Rock’s book, there is a video clip, which you can watch

Paul McLean’s triune brain theory helped me to realise how important emotions are when it comes to learning. Scare your participants and they will not do any learning.

Engage them by telling stories and something magical happens.Stories seem to tap into something deep within our psyches. I love watching people’s faces when I tell them stories. I love to see the eye contact and how deeply they engage with the story. Even when the stories are not true, they seem to work. I made up a story to help people learn about the factors in an organisation, which hinder learning. The main characters were called Quasimodo and Esmeralda. As soon as I mentioned these two characters, all of the participants began to smile. A potentially dry subject can be brought to life by using humour and stories. Stories however can do an awful lot more, listen to what Margaret Parkin a famous business storyteller says about storytelling on her website:

Here is a great article about how storytelling can help and hinder organisations:

Harvard article on Storytelling

I have lots to learn about the brain and what I am really interested in is the research, which will help me to improve the learning experiences for my participants. I also want to maximise retention of information. This benefits the learners and the organisation. Do you know any tricks or tips to maximize retention?

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