By Anna Slocombe

It was great to listen to David Rock last week at CIPD conference.  He talked about “Learning through the lens of cognitive neuroscience”.

David explained that learning is not about novelty, but about coherence. This helps create schemas – patterns that help organise information and build relationships between the different bits of information we receive.  Why  are they important?  So we do not just “store” the information (remember), but recall it easily and apply it when we need it.

According to research there are 4 main factors that boost the creation of schemas, using the acronym AGES:

  • Attention
  • Generation
  • Emotion
  • Spacing

What happens when all these are in place?  We create insights, or those precious “aha” moments.

So THIS is the active ingredient of learning:  not the amount of information, but the insight that happens in the brain.

The behaviour change, which is so desired and so difficult to achieve, especially with the softer side of learning (people, leadership skills), depends on the strength of the insight.

It takes some mastery to generate a compelling insight, yet the good news is that sometimes just 5 minutes of quality content or a powerful question could be enough.

All this explains why Coaching is so effective – currently, it is the best known learning intervention to get those “aha” moments and personal discoveries which can change behaviour.  The downside of coaching might be availability and cost, so it could be difficult to scale if needed.

However, interactive workshops with questions generating insights and team coaching can have a similar effect. They could be run virtually or face to face – David proved that a virtual event could be as powerful – if not more powerful – than a traditional one, provided we get the AGES factors right.  In fact, the truly interactive virtual workshops keep the benefits of generating insights while inviting more people to benefit from the wonderful power of learning.