6 Brain Hacks For Better Learning Transfer

Emma Weber

The brain does not like to change. Findings in cognitive neuroscience cement the need for an ongoing support process after learning so that training really makes the difference we all strive for.

A while back I interviewed neuroscience expert Colleen Lightbody on the links between neuroscience and learning transfer. You can listen to the original interview here. I’ve been thinking again recently about why we tackle learning transfer the way we do, and the science behind it.

With that in mind, here are 6 brain hacks from neuroscience that you must be aware of when considering your transfer of learning solution.

 1) The brain is designed to homeostasis.

The brain has a tendency to go back to what is familiar and comfortable. When we are required to do something differently, it takes a high degree of effort. Change stimulates an arousal state perceived as stressful, so people resist it. But brain neuroplasticity tells us that the brain is not rigid. Despite the fact that it’s difficult to change, it is also completely possible to change.

2) Preempting the change is very important.

Often people leave the learning environment exhausted, with limited brainpower left. To set learners up for success make them aware that change is going to require effort and focus. Provide a transition stage to continue the momentum with an ongoing process that staggers the learning. This will make post-learning change more comfortable and manageable for the individual, rather than a totally overwhelming prospect.

3) Get learners to create their own individual action plans.

Having a learner personally create an action plan about how they will apply their learning back in the work environment will create the right neurochemical balance in the brain. Most of our waking thoughts are about ourselves. By tapping into a person’s sense of meaning and purpose, the brain is much more active than when talking about an arbitrary thing that the person can’t really relate to.

4) Develop a personalised one on one support process.

With a one-on-one, reflective learning transfer process, allowing people to talk about themselves and connect to their own purpose and meaning will create an increase in dopamine and serotonin. These are feel-good neurochemicals, which facilitate learning and brain development.

5) Don’t forget reflection.

With structured and facilitated reflection, learners can be supported to make new connections in their brains through insights, which in turn connects maps of learning and knowledge. This will change the brainwave state of the brain, causing an outpouring of catecholamines – feel good neurochemicals. This process also stimulates the basal ganglia – the habits section of the brain. There can be much deeper learning from that perspective, rather than the usual logical, linear kind of thinking that comes from the prefrontal cortex.

6) Make learning transfer follow up safe and confidential for learners.

Human beings have a tendency to underestimate the importance of a safe relationship in any kind of development conversation. Recent research showed that the brain processes the emotional component of physical pain and social pain in exactly the same place. When we experience physical pain, we go into an instinctive, defensive survival brain state. Providing a safe, confidential, and non-directive environment where someone can access their inner wisdom is incredibly powerful for people’s development.

I hope that these 6 brain hacks from neuroscience help you develop your transfer of learning solutions for your organisation. Focus on the relevance of how learning is important to a person, how they are going to use it, and what change is going to happen because of it. All the learning in the world and the most wonderful neurochemical brain state is wasted, if the person doesn’t actually go and do something to embed a new behaviour. Get people to experiment, be curious to do things differently, and reflect on that.

Thanks to Colleen Lightbody for the neuroscience insights!

For a learning transfer diagnostic to assess the best approach to learning transfer at your organisation with Lever – Transfer of Learning CEO Emma Weber – contact jess@leverlearning.com today.

Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.