How People Learn
Bring the Science of Learning into your Employee Training
Dec 4, 2022
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A few years ago, a typical eLearning onboarding session for a newstarter likely involved mindlessly clicking through slides of black-on-whitetext. It's highly likely that this employee was dreading these early days andwork and couldn't imagine online learning and development fitting into theirongoing career. At least not in an enjoyable way.


Thankfully, creators of eLearning and employee traininghave learned a thing or two about how to make the exciting science of learningwork for them.


This article will cover the science of learning, howour brains learn and retain information, and how we can use this new knowledgeto target employee learning to be more effective and enjoyable.


What is the Science of Learning?


In the past, research into understanding how learningworks have taken place across many different fields. We'd have neuroscientists,biologists, cognitive scientists, and psychologists, as well as computerscientists and engineers, looking at how learning occurs inside and outside theclassroom.


You may think that all of these approaches to thescience of learning could get confusing. It's true that these sciences don'talways agree, but they do agree on the value and importance of education.


The ultimate goal for most disciplines has been tooptimize learning, and by having different specialties and disciplinescommuning with each other, we are closer to this goal than ever.


How do Brains Learn?


There are over 85 billion neurons in your brain, makingeverything from your heartbeat to your favorite dance moves happen. Thoseneurons, which are a type of cell, are messengers that give electrical signalsto other neurons.


For example, when you're trying out a TikTok dance,they might signal you to move your foot. When you're at a new job, your neuronssignal you to shake hands confidently but humbly with the CEO.


When you're in the process of learning, new connections develop between your neurons.These developments are what is known as neuroplasticity. The more learninghappens, the stronger these connections become; as they strengthen, the nerveimpulses can transmit information faster. You'll be a whizz at the newaccounting system in no time.


However, the connections can also weaken when youhaven't done something or learned about something in a while. That's why itmight take a little bit to quickly file away customer needs when you've been onvacation. Don't worry; once you start learning or doing something again, thoseconnections will strengthen again.


Learning Means Making Brain Connections


That's the most scientifically complicated part of thisarticle. You can breathe a sigh of relief now and file neuroplasticity under'word of the day.'


To reiterate, learning is when the connections betweenneurons become more robust. This means memory has been formed, and learning has occurred.


One of the things we can learn from this is thatrepetition is valuable when it comes to learning. For example, if a learner istaking in a new piece of information and cannot recall it during the quizsection of an eLearning module, the neurons haven't made that vital connection.


That means it's time to get those neurons involvedagain, but it might be wise to try to involve them differently. It's possiblethat this learner does not learn in the way the module attempted to teach themthe new concept.


How can the Science of Learning Improve Your EmployeeTraining?


The science of learning can make critical phases oftraining and development more effective. Let's take a closer look at 4categories of employee learning for science to improve upon.


#1 Delivery and the Spacing Effect


Research dates back all the way to 1885 and has shownthat repetitions spaced out over more extended periods of timeproduce stronger memories than those clustered together.


In a world before eLearning, some employees would besent out on long training events for a day or two. They would meet with expertsand take in seminars. While these are fantastic network opportunities, much ofthe actual teaching happening in workshops and lectures would be difficult torecall and truly learn due to the spacing effect.


If possible, it is wise to space out the trainingsessions. Online learning is an ideal candidate for this as the learner won'tneed to travel somewhere. Instead, they could log into their training module ofchoice every few days over a few weeks. The learner's brain will process,encode, and learn the information better.


#2 Reward Application of Learning


Does your eLearning's gamification system hand out avirtual sticker every time they complete a module? That's all well and good,but behavioral research has found that positive reinforcement is best applied whenthe learner shows the desired behavior within the context of their job.


For example, as a business, you know you've beentraining your customer service employees to have more productive outcomes whenhaving difficult customer conversations. The training has armed them with thetools to turn what could be a disastrous conversation into a fruitful one.


A fantastic way to apply rewards is for a team leaderto notice when a conversation goes very well and for them to praise or evenreward with something openly—for example, a gift card or employee of the month certificate.HP's recently revamped employee recognition program includes Saturday danceparties, cooking classes, and financial bonuses.


Interestingly, from a brain science perspective, thistype of reward works even better when it is only applied occasionally ratherthan every time the behavior occurs. It may feel mean, but try it out sometime!


#3 Follow-Up for a Learning Boost


Imagine you've just rolled out the best eLearningcourse of your life as a learning developer, and after everyone has taken thetraining, you never follow up with them again. Follow-up is essential when it comes to skilldevelopment and learning.


Following up on learning is crucial because it's a form of repetition. If you want somebody tocommit a new piece of information to memory, you will have them repeatedlylearn that new thing at increasing intervals. This can be seen especially whenin language learning. When a new piece of vocabulary is often repeated, thosesynapses are optimized and can adapt to new learning challenges.


The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows thatcompanies who spend billions a year on training, but almost nothing onfollowing up, may as well set their training budget on fire. The ForgettingCurve illustrates that learners forget 70% of what they've learned in 24 hoursand a staggering 90% within a week.


Some ways you can follow up without having to investtoo much company time and money are:


·   Emails: ask each learner to email youwith bullet points of key takeaways. Once you've received them, you can gatherthem and post them somewhere everyone can see. After a few weeks, you can alsoemail the responses to people to reinforce what was learned. Make sure theemail is catchy and easy to read!


·   Real-Life Application: whatever thelearner has taken away from their training is likely reflected in keyperformance indicators in the business. Regularly post statistics to see whatimpact the training has made. For example, are dropped call numbers down afterthat training on difficult customer conversations?


·   Quizzes: in eLearning, we often testusing assessments right after completing a unit. However, testing theirknowledge a week after the module is even better. Your learning managementsoftware of choice can automate sending out quizzes with ease.


#4 Collect Assessment Data


How do you know if your training is working? Do youcollect feedback? Listen outside the door of the training room? Trust thattraining that seemed effective in the lab will work well when rolled out?


Some eLearning authors neglect collecting data to evaluate just how effectivetheir new training is. That's a shame because without collecting assessmentdata and metrics, you may be wasting money that could be invested differentlyin your company or training strategy.


Some employee training success metrics that are commonare:


·   Number of learners who completed the training


·   Pass/fail rate of quizzes and assessments


·   Rate of behavioral changes that you can leadback to the training


·   return on investment


When you use these training metrics, you will be ableto determine whether the employee has learned the thing they were meant tolearn, were able to apply it to work, are meeting business goals and whetherthe training has been worth the investment.


With this type of metric knowledge in your back pocket,you will be able to get buy-in more easily for any future employee trainingbudget needed.


Myths about Effective Teaching and Learning Strategies


Like anything to do with science, many old wives' talesand myths abound. Let's start myth-busting to set you up for better learningand teaching.


Myth #1: You are left-brained or right-brained.


We're sure this one started as a shorthand to explainthat some people are naturally more creative and others naturally more logical.However, the two halves of your brain are connected via the corpus callosum,and that bridge does an excellent job.


Some types of learning are more dominanttowards one side. For example, we know languages are predominantly learned onthe left side of the brain.


It's far more helpful to explore what type of learnersomeone is. There are four predominant learning styles:


·   Visual: learn through their eyes and finddiagrams, pictures, and charts especially useful.


·   Auditory: learn by listening and findlectures and voice recordings helps them take information in.


·   Reading and Writing: learn by reading orputting pen to paper; multiple choice questions and lists are helpful here.


·   Kinaesthetic: learn by doing, try toincorporate as much real-life experience as possible for them, and role plays.


Myth #2: Every Learner has a Specific Learning Style


Yes, we've just gone over the four learning styles andare already ready to take away a common myth around them. Many more people aremultimodal than fit into specific learning styles.


Studies have shown that while people have apreference, tailoring teaching and learning to that preference does not resultin better learning.


Instead, it's wise to tailor the learning to theteaching method. For example, if somebody needs to learn how to pick a lock,they'd unlikely have much success from just reading a book about it. Instead,real-life applications and diagrams will be helpful.


Myth #2: You'll be an Expert in 10,000 Hours


Malcolm Gladwell probably didn't expect his flippantrule of needing 10,000 hours to become an expert to become theubiquitous number everyone would start throwing around.


Mastering something is often dependent on the qualityof how you're practicing. For example, suppose you have an employee making thesame mistakes repeatedly without a kind word of helpful critique and actingupon that criticism. In that case, they will not have achieved mastery afterthose 10,000 hours. Instead, they'll have become very fast at making the samemistakes.


Instead, an employee is better off practicing newthings and learning activities with access to feedback from experts in theirfield. This way, they can identify weaknesses and work on becoming a morewell-rounded employee.




In conclusion, bringing science into the onlineclassroom has had an impressive impact on how we pass on information to ourlearners.


This article has taken you through the science oflearning and how many different disciplines it spans. We have looked closely athow brains and neurons learn and even discovered a new six-syllable word toplay during scrabble - neuroplasticity!


Let's use some repetition to check whether you've takenin some of the essential points in this article. Do you remember the fourpractical applications of science we can use in employee training? They wouldbe the delivery and spacing effect, application for rewards in learning, howfollowing up boosts learning, and the usefulness of collecting assessment data.


Ultimately, we also looked at disproving three commonlearning myths with science. For example, you are not right- or left-brained!You are both.


Happy learning with science on your side!




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