Six Pillars of Neurolearning Design

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In our last post we talked about our methodology for creating amazing learning experiences—NeurolearningTM Design—and how it works: Cognitive Neuroscience + Intent + Appeal = Neurolearning Design. Now we’d like to talk about why it works and give you not just one rationale, but six. We call these our Six Pillars of Neurolearning Design.

1. Create a Positive Mood

Who wouldn’t want to take a pill containing a magical chemical and get instantly smarter? Such a drug does exist, but not in pill form. Nor is it magic. It’s called Serotonin, and it’s a chemical that our brains make when we’re in a good mood. Serotonin has been found to help us learn faster. If we can find out (through Intent) what makes our particular learners happy, we can provide that stimulus to get their brains in an optimal state to learn. That doesn’t mean that everyone gets a car or is going to Australiaaaa! That would be cost prohibitive, not to mention distracting. By using Appeal in our training, for example, by incorporating awesome visuals, inspiring music or creating a comfortable learning environment, we can get our learners all hopped up on serotonin and fired up about the learning.

2. Get & Hold Their Attention

When we’re in a state of focused attention, we are exactly like a dog when it spots a squirrel and all he can think is: “SQUIRREL!”  Focused attention is a state in our brains, lasting anywhere from 1-20 minutes, where our prefrontal cortex is completely engaged. That is the center of the brain responsible for knowledge transfer, i.e. learning. The way we get our learners into that state is by finding out, through Intent, what their “squirrel” is—whether they love sports, films or music—and using that in our training (Appeal) to get them to take notice. One example would be creating a softball narrative to provoke thought and hold attention if your learners are on company co-ed softball teams. The more we can appeal to them personally, the likelier we are to attract and keep their focused attention.

3. Make Them Feel

Underlying every learning experience we design is one fundamental question: Why Should They Care? That’s because if relevance is what piques learners’ interest, empathy is what keeps them motivated to stay in it until the very end. Learners need to see themselves in the material and find meaning in what we are trying to teach them. Storytelling, for the past millennia, has been how human beings communicate and instruct one another. When we identify with the characters in some way, we truly learn. We put ourselves, cognitively, in the same situation as the character in the story and we internalize the lesson because it impacts us in a meaningful way.

4. Make it Bite-Sized

It’s hard to practice restraint, especially when our training is under certain constraints. For example, we have a lot of material to cover in a very small amount of time. The temptation is to just pack it all in our learner’s brains, like how Joey Chestnut at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest eats those dogs. While Joey has no problem keeping them all down, normal people simply cannot hold in that much information. The trick is, doing it the Neurolearning Design way, which is not eating the dogs in one gulp like Chestnut but bite-by-bite, one at a time. We call this microlearning (also spelled ‘micro learning’) as it involves short bursts of highly engaging and interactive content delivered to the learner when the learner wants it and can enjoy it.

5. Space It Out

We need to extend the hotdog eating metaphor because we haven’t solved the problem of all those hot dogs. Even if we eat them one at a time, nobody can eat 74 dogs in a day, except, of course, Joey Chestnut. By cramming everything learners need to know into one intense hours-long course, we make it less likely for learners to retain a significant portion of the learning. That’s why it’s imperative that we space it out, according to the Cognitive Load Theory. In summary, learning bite-by-bite, spaced out over several days rather than in one sitting.

6. Generate Knowledge

Knowledge builds in and on itself, not in a linear fashion, but like a vast spider web, connecting and crossing over and under until it’s five times stronger than steel. That’s why, rather than throwing information at learners and hoping it sticks, it’s better to let them make their own connections. Like the spider web, if they can weave something they didn’t know together with something they already knew, it will become almost impossible for them to forget it.

In the same sense, our programs must prompt learners to create their own mental links to the information as they go. They must generate unique, mental context for the knowledge to be embedded, to go from short-term memory to long-term. This is done by ensuring our course involves activating multiple senses. Not just listening or reading alone, but mixing the senses together, and tying the knowledge to their personal role or job context.

Neurolearning Design is our methodology for creating learning experiences that optimize learning outcomes. By adhering to the Six Pillars of Neurolearning Design, we design learning experiences that engage, amaze, entertain, and stick with the learners.  

Greg Kozera is the Director of Creative Learning Design here at ELM. He helps fortune 500’s implement effective digital learning strategies that help in creating outcomes that achieve business objectives. He also leads research & development at ELM, where we experiment with combining insights from modern cognitive theory and design theory to create learning experiences that aid in memory retention, positively affect learner outcomes, and dare we say also be entertaining, and intuitive, and appealing.

Aaron Fox is a Junior Designer at ELM.