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Twenty-Minute Chunks: Neuroscience and How We Best Learn

By Mark Koenigsberg

My enthusiasm for neuroscience and its practical applications for my professional work as coach and consultant were inspired by two books, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee’s Resonant Leadership, and David Rock’s Your Brain at Work. Subsequent readings have kept me firmly on this path and have profoundly shaped my practice. The science in neuroscience is congruent with Gestalt teachings; the research and the ensuing data put teeth and bones into what, as Gestalt practitioners, we have intuitively known for years. It makes the soft stuff hard.

A recent document, “The Science of Making Learning Stick,”* highlights the findings of five PhD researchers, teachers and leaders, challenging long-held assumptions about how we best learn.

The following is a compilation of the article strictly for the non-scientists among us.

The Findings:

  • 20 minute chunks, then refresh. Most of us can only give full and undivided attention for twenty minutes, then attention and the ability to retain what is learned drops. Learning is not akin to running a marathon, less is effectively more.
  • We cannot force people’s brains to pay attention to us or to take in new material when that brain needs a break. We need to pay attention to attention.
  • Spacing, as in time between team or learning sessions, increases long-term retention. Consider three 20-minute content rich learning or team sessions spaced out during a work week (e.g. Mon/Wed/Friday mornings).
  • Spacing allows for sleep, which does wonders for long-term learning. Sleep provides optimal conditions for converting newly encoded memories into long-term storage.
  • Visual and auditory learning engage different areas of the brain. Showing a PowerPoint slide while simultaneously talking to your audience asks our brains to do auditory and visual learning simultaneously, hence neither function optimally. It is neither an effective, nor an efficient learning or teaching strategy. Show your slide, pause, don’t speak, ask for people’s attention, then talk to them.
  • Multitasking is the enemy of learning. Let’s repeat this. Multitasking is the enemy of learning. It does not work and those who think and report that they are great at it regularly score the worst when tested for retention. Multi-tasking distracts our brains from concentration and focus.
  • Positive emotion. When we feel good we are more creative.  We have greater insight – more “aha” moments, and our perception expands.
  • Retention and idea generation increase when we think about learning in the context of others, meaning how we will apply what we have learned in the context of our social (family, workplace, client-based) environment.
  • Conclude a team session by asking, “Who will you share this information with?” or, “How will you use this information with others?” Doing so leverages the power of social learning to make lessons stick, sticking in our brains!

 

*NeuroLeadership Journal, Volume 5/August 2014 – Josh Davis, Maite Balda, David Rock, Paul McGinness, Lita Davachi

 

 

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