5 questions about powerful learning techniques

Published on
February 22, 2022
Our digital and connected world generates countless impressions for the brain to process every day. How do you maximize learning in this environment?

Our brains are programmed to deal with deficits whilst our modern environment is characterized by surplus and information overload. We have unlimited access to everything from sugar and information to relationships and tasks. As a consequence, our 40.000 year-old brains need new strategies for creating long-term memories in a digital everyday life.

The fundamental principle is to create those limitations that the brain “expects'' to get. For example, dedicate some time for focussed work and do one task at a time. It is a common misperception that multitasking is efficient, when in reality it is very energy consuming for our brains (glucose and oxygen). The brain does a much better job focussing on one thing at a time, ideally during shorter sessions and without distractions. However, you may want to practice your ability to focus by exposing yourself to noisier, more challenging environments every now and again. Your focussing skills will improve significantly and become a valuable asset.

The younger generation has higher expectations of learning and development in the workplace. What recommendations would you give to organizations based on that?

Learning and development trigger a dopamine rush, which is what we associate with motivation. Younger individuals are thought to be more spoiled with various kinds of stimulants of the “feel-good hormones” compared to previous generations (given the modern era). This is why they may increase their expectations even in the workplace.

To give a sense of learning and satisfaction I would recommend concrete and hands-on education related to the job role. Course participants should be given the time, space and authority to make use of their new skills early into the learning process. Theoretical knowledge can easily become overlooked or regarded as simply abstract theory unless turned into practical actions. This could involve time to reflect, a senior mentorship or new responsibilities. A sense of development occurs when efforts turn into new possibilities.

Are there any changes that you would like to see within learning and development?

Learning and development, both in schools and workplaces, would benefit from a change based on what we know about the brain today. Our digital environment creates perfect conditions for streamlining and getting lots done quickly. Meanwhile, the high-paced workflow results in a lack of “pauses” which in turn makes systematic long-term memories - what we call learning - difficult. The learning and development space would benefit from acknowledging that the brain needs more than simply receiving impressions.

How can we learn more efficiently?

We can only remember what we once thought. That is based on a quite ambitious definition of memory. Unfortunately, recollection is not enough. Instead, we need to retrieve memory when we need it and without a “trigger”. In order to achieve that, we need to actively be mindful about the information as and when we read, hear or observe it. 30 seconds later, your working memory will no longer be able to process the information and it will be too late.

You recently took 100 days off from work. Why is this important to you and what are your reflections from that time?

Being self-employed, I really value being in control of my own time. I also enjoy contrasts in life, which is why I work intensely doing lectures, courses and books for about half of the year. The remaining time I spend reflecting, outdoors and together with family and friends. The human brain is built to endure periods of stress, but it also requires recovery. My time off gave me a more positive outlook on life, higher levels of “feel-good” hormones and a significantly lower resting heart rate. I feel much better equipped to deal with stress going back to a high-paced workflow.

Do you work in learning and development? Here are the key take-aways:
  • Limit the amount of information and try to keep things simple. Large quantities of information will result in more questions (or a confused audience). The easier it is to comprehend, the more complex the processing of the information.
  • The brain can only pay attention to 50 out of the almost 11 million received impressions - each second. And out of these 50 impressions, you can only generate one thought chain. In other words, you can only focus on what you think of. Without active thinking you will not be able to create a long-term memory.
  • Try to encourage expressions among your audience. An expression must precede by a thought and therefore works as the only “learning guarantee”. However, it requires active thinking by your audience.
  • Through generations we have been told repetition is the key to all knowledge. According to modern science, this is no longer true. Pointless repetition unfortunately remains pointless. Without active thinking your brain will not be able to create a long-term memory. Therefore, try to add an element to each repetition in order to create new perspectives and to keep it relevant to the brain.
  • “Retrieving” stored information is the best way to promote learning, which is something that happens when you or someone else asks you a question. This method is a lot more effective than merely repetition.

Anna Tebelius Bodin

Anna Tebelius Bodin (Harvard University) holds popular lectures for learning and development professionals across Sweden. Her theories combine brain science with our modern, digital environment and focus on learning, motivation and mental health.

Subscribe to newsletter

Enter your email address below to receive news, insights, tips and industry observations.

By subscribing you agree with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Do you want an LMS designed for the human brain?
Subscribe
Sign up with your email address to receive news and updates. We respect your privacy.
By subscribing you agree with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy and provide consent to receive updates from our company.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.