THE BLOG
11/25/2014 02:30 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Neuroscience of Learning

How do we learn?
Recently we were approached by an organization to help them understand how people learn and how they could be more innovative and impactful. There are experts around the world researching and revealing deeper insights into the science of how we learn. We know from a foundational perspective that electro-chemical pathways are laid down, that myelin sheath coat our axons and embeds our learning. This myelin sheath improves the transmission of signals. This can result in us thinking faster and cleanlier.

When we think about organic learning I can't help but watch my 2-year-old daughter. I have been amazed to see first hand how she dives into learning and how much she has become accomplished in, in such a short space of time! She:

• is curious;
• is excitable;
• is easily fascinated;
• is self-motivated;
• loves exploring;
• thrives on feedback;
• is creative and imaginative;

and much more.

Aren't these the kind of qualities we look for in our team members in organizations? Could it be the case that they are innately present, and somehow we have stamped on them, extinguishing a lot of the great value that was once there?

Watching her play and how we interact with her has shown up some contrast frames that I see in organizations.

Two-year-old Jessica Organizations
  • She achieves something -- she immediately jumps up and down and shouts "Yippee" in a loud voice. We then join in. Celebrations happen in a planned manner, way after the achievement.
  • She responds positively to both in the moment and later feedback, using it to her advantage and being grateful for the pointers. People often experience the threat response to planned, after-the-fact feedback.
  • She sets clear and realistic expectations of herself, constantly reevaluating them -- yesterday building a small tower of blocks, today using all the blocks she can find. We're often not sure what is expected of us, or what we're trying to develop in ourselves.
  • She is lovingly supported in her learning journey. When did you last get a hug every day at work for a week?

In our experience most organizations are playing small when it comes to their learning culture.

What actually is a learning culture?
At Synaptic Potential we believe that a learning culture should be informed by neuroscience and the other disciplines, which we know, have helped create happy people in successful companies.

Celebration
So the culture needs to be a celebratory one. It should spontaneously celebrate learning achievements. As a med student we would go for a drink with friends when we'd received good exam results, prior to that we'd give each other a hug after our first successful dissection or go out for a dance

Feedback
It needs to have feedback positioned as valuable. Rather than people feeling terrible about themselves when they are told they need to tweak something about how they are doing things, wouldn't it be amazing if they were grateful for the pointer?

Expectations
You need to be intentional in what you are looking to learn. Considering just the old school components of skills and knowledge is no longer enough. We know that so much more determines the end deliverable result. Build these into your development intentionally.

Connection
This is another component that comes from our Synaptic Circle within our Applied Neuroscience for Leaders Program. Being connected to others and supported, dare we say loved, by those who are with you daily in your learning journey is so underplayed by organizations currently.

This is such an important and huge topic I could keep writing for a long time. We'll leave it here for now, but if you are interested in this area and would like to see more do engage with us and let us know.

Summary
Learning is vital to organizations. Enabling your people to develop themselves for their, and the organization's benefit is a worthwhile investment.