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Twenty-Minute Chunks: Neuroscience and How We Best Learn

Friday, October 17th, 2014

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



Spring is trying hard to get here

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

By Sonia Nevis


While I was waiting for the warmth of Spring, a friend sent me a letter about a magazine that she has been reading. She was sure I would like the magazine a lot and she was right.

The magazine is the Sun and it has published 448 issues (P.O. Box 5837, Harlan, IA, 51593).  What I liked about it is that it has an eccentric point of view and it often upsets comfortable ways of established thinking.


Reading it in my cozy chair, I began to have images of my early life.  One of my favorite habits had been to sit alone in a restaurant and pretend to be reading a book while I listened to all the conversations around me.  Real conversations.  Where else would I have learned so much?


These are some of the things I heard that I never would have known:


1.     You really didn’t even leave him a note?

2.     How could you not even leave a note?

3.     Oh, come on, I was twenty-five.  I was a baby.


4.     He broke up with me in Prospect Park. Took me there so he could do it in public.

5.     In public?


6.     Hey, I spent four days on a camping trip in a tent.

7.     Oh, Jesus, a tent.


8.     No, it was great, then he totally disappeared.


9.     Excuse me, I’m sorry but I am trying to read.


10.  I know that look on his face.  I’m going to pretend I’m not judging him.


This is the way I learned how to listen, for many a year.  I liked being able to take in what people talked about and how they talked to each other.


In my home or in my school I learned much less than what I learned for so many years just drinking in what I saw and what I heard.


I counted up 53 things that people said to each other that I just read in the Sun.  I enjoyed reading them all and I’m writing this to you so that you know what I mean by “learning.”  But, truly, what I wish the most is that I could listen to all of you and drink in and learn from you.


Take good care of yourself and of each other.






Also, thanks so much, my friend, for having found this magazine.  I am enjoying it so much. That you thought to send it to me, somehow knowing that listening is what made me who I am, has touched my heart.


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