“If one more person talks to me about my amygdala, I’ll scream!”
This learner’s reaction isn’t surprising. The last decade has seen a frenzy of neuroscience research, leading to an avalanche of new findings and interest in the field. But along with the exciting new knowledge comes the inevitable hype and distraction. New studies abound that may or may not be practical or relevant in the real world of business.
And that’s where the rubber really meets the road. Because for all the research, attention and general trendiness of the topic, when it comes to your learners, your workplace, your business and your results, there are only two questions that really matter: Can you use it, and does it deliver what you need?
From informing employee engagement strategies to helping increase creativity and innovation, brain science has plenty of value to offer learners as well as HR and L&D leaders. But that doesn’t mean you should insert some neuroscience into your learning mix and call it a day.
To get real impact and value, here are three filters to consider as you look at the latest neuroscience “buzz” in relation to your learning strategies.
In a keynote Ann Herrmann-Nehdi presented on The Brain and Learning at the annual Learning Conference, she discussed how current brain research relates to fundamental shifts happening in learning and organizations. As the illustration below shows, these shifts reinforce the need and value of applying relevant brain research to the learning context, and how organizations need to understand and apply these insights for better leadership, learning and results.
Consider what you’re trying to achieve and how breakthroughs in neuroscience can support those goals. Maybe you need find more innovative, effective ways to engage today’s learners. You might be looking at the thinking skills the business requires to stay competitive. Or perhaps you’re working on a “stretch” program that will place new mental demands on your hi-po population. Once you have that context, you can be more intentional about mapping out your strategy and understanding the role brain research plays in it.
Clearly, there is still so much we don’t know about the brain and how it works, even with all the investments being poured into high-profile initiatives. At the same time, associations and sweeping generalizations are being made that often have no basis in solid science. When we draw conclusions and begin applying those based on limited or small-scale studies, we risk not only delivering wrong or negative outcomes; we risk our own credibility.
Last year, Ann spoke with CLO Magazine about the challenges of balancing the buzz with what will truly add value to your learning and development strategies, as well as some of the “neuromyths” that have persisted. Balance neuro-excitement with a healthy dose of neuro-skepticism. With so much information available, and so much room for misinterpretation or oversimplification, it’s essential that you evaluate the reliability of your sources with a critical eye.
Ideas rooted in neuroscience crop up in every aspect of business today, from leadership development to change management. In many cases, these ideas offer far more theory than practical application. The concepts may be interesting—and they may even be worth exploring—but unless you have a way to apply them to reach your desired learning and business outcomes, their practical value is going to be limited at best.
Make sure you have a way to bridge the gap so that you can operationalize the science and make it usable on a practical, profitable level. Especially in today’s already-overloaded and distracted work environment, if people don’t see why it matters and can’t immediately use it, it’s only going to add to the noise.
Neuroscience on its own isn’t the magical answer to your training challenges. You need to have the strategic focus and practical tools to bring the science down to earth, grounding it in the real world in a way that people can immediately understand and put to work.
It’s worth the time and intention to do it right, because when it’s relevant, applicable and targeted, it will deliver tremendous value for your learners and your organization.
For more tips on getting practical benefits from brain research, check out these two-minute interviews with Ann Herrmann-Nehdi.