Have you ever experienced that “aha” moment when everything just clicks, and a foggy concept suddenly becomes crystal clear? Those moments are not random bursts of enlightenment; they’re often crafted, facilitated, and born from structured yet open-ended queries.
Enter Brain-centric’s Challenge Question. https://youtu.be/owx9QSYG0gs
Imagine you’re navigating a maze. Along the way, you encounter signposts. Some are vague, pointing ambiguously. Others, however, pose a challenge: “What if you took the less-traveled path to your left?”
Suddenly, your journey becomes a personal quest.
That’s the essence of a Challenge Question: a personalized signpost that directs you deeper into the maze of understanding.
Why Challenge Questions Guarantee Engagement
Tapping into Natural Curiosity: • At the core of our very being, humans are inherently curious. From the infant trying to grasp an object to a scientist probing the mysteries of the universe, questions drive our actions. A well-crafted Challenge Question lures out this intrinsic trait, compelling the individual to engage and seek answers.
Personal Connection: • Ever been in a class or seminar where you felt the content just wasn’t meant for you? Brain-centric’s approach ensures that every learner feels the content speaks directly to their experiences and challenges. By relating personally, the content becomes more than just information; it becomes a piece of a personal puzzle you’re compelled to solve.
Measurable Growth: • It’s one thing to feel like you’ve learned something; it’s another to see tangible evidence of it. By ensuring that the Big Idea behind every Challenge Question is measurable, learners can track their progress and facilitators can tweak their approaches, ensuring a dynamic, responsive learning environment.
Clear, Direct Pathway to Insight: • In an age of information overload, clarity is king. Challenge Questions are concise, eliminating any ambiguity or overwhelming fluff. This precision ensures that learners immediately grasp the question’s essence and can dive straight into introspection and exploration. A Personal Surprise: Your Own Challenge Question Now, for a little taste of the magic. Reflect on a hobby or activity you truly love, something that invigorates and excites you. Got it in your mind? Here’s your Challenge Question: “How might immersing myself deeper in [your chosen hobby] enrich my daily life and relationships?” The intent is not just to get you thinking about your hobby in isolation but to engage you in pondering its ripple effects on every facet of your life. Brain-centric’s Challenge Question is not a mere tool; it’s an invitation. An invitation to dive deeper, to understand better, and to engage fully. When crafted with care, these questions guarantee a level of engagement that transcends traditional learning models, pulling each learner into discovery and growth.
Engagement in communication begins with capturing attention, and that’s where the element of Surprise plays a crucial role. Think of it as a sequence: Surprise, Attention, Engagement. While Surprise acts as a powerful initiator, it’s only a piece of the larger puzzle.
To sustain engagement, Surprise needs to be incorporated into elements like curiosity, relevance, Challenge, and relatability to become essential. Factors like beauty, humor, emotion, and social interaction amplify this engagement, especially when strategically placed for effect.
This understanding forms the cornerstone of Brain-centric Design. This approach aligns perfectly with the brain’s natural processing mechanisms. Within its framework, notably the Challenge Wheel, strategic placement of surprises ensures the audience remains engaged. The Challenge Wheel isn’t just a method; it’s an experience. From the moment it’s introduced, the audience feels a direct connection, as if the content is tailored specifically for them, addressing their immediate needs and concerns.
In this whole-brain, learner-centric approach, incentives aren’t materialistic. The real rewards are intangible yet deeply fulfilling: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The framework’s Multiple Perspectives section ensures varied insights, often from experts, shedding light on the presented Challenge. Here, the Challenge Wheel brilliantly integrates Hebb’s Rule into the mix.
Hebb’s Rule, often summarized by the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together,” is one of the foundational concepts in neuroscience and psychology. Donald Hebb proposed it in his 1949 book “The Organization of Behavior.” The Rule describes a fundamental mechanism for synaptic plasticity, where an increase in synaptic efficacy arises from the repeated and persistent stimulation of one neuron by another.
To say that a bit clearer, describing Hebb’s Rule is like when you hang out with a friend and become best friends. The more you do things together, the closer you become.
In neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science, Hebb’s Rule is highly regarded and fundamental to understanding learning and memory. The concept has influenced theories about neural network learning in artificial intelligence and has been foundational in developing various neural network algorithms.
While it might not be a household name for the general public, anyone who has studied cognitive science, psychology, or related fields is likely familiar with Hebb’s Rule due to its significance in explaining how neural connections strengthen through repeated activation.
Imagine your brain is like a big neighborhood with many houses (these are our neurons). When you learn something new, it’s like making a path between two houses.
At first, the path might be hard to see and easy to forget. But the more you walk on it, the clearer and more permanent it becomes. It’s like when you and your friend walk to each other’s houses all the time; you know the path by heart.
Hebb’s Rule is like saying, “The more you walk on the path, the easier it is to remember and use.” It’s a way scientists talk about how we learn and remember things. It’s like practicing; the more you do something, the better you get at it!
If we take your ‘brain’s neighborhood’ and divide it into four main sections, like four big parks, each park helps you learn differently. These parks represent the four learning lobes of the brain.
Frontal Park (Frontal Lobe):
What it does: This is where you make decisions and figure out how to solve problems.
Perspective: Imagine you’re trying to plan a group workshop to develop your unit’s future vision. Someone might suggest, “Let’s use the Challenge Wheel to help us set up our collaboration on the same page!” This perspective helps you think about organizing and deciding.
Parietal Playground (Parietal Lobe):
What it does: This part helps you understand where things are and how they relate. It’s like understanding the rules of a game.
Perspective: Picture someone showing you a map of the competitive landscape and where each option is played out. This perspective helps you see the big picture.
Temporal Treehouse (Temporal Lobe):
What it does: This is where you remember the lyrics to songs or stories your parents told you.
Perspective: Imagine someone singing a catchy song related to the Challenge Wheel and how it works. This perspective uses sound and memory to help you remember.
Occipital Oasis (Occipital Lobe):
What it does: This part helps you see and understand pictures, colors, and anything visual.
Perspective: Think of someone showing you a colorful poster with pictures of how the Challenge Wheel can be used. This perspective uses images you must interpret to explain things.
When you learn something new, all these parts of the brain can work together. Different people might show you different ways (or perspectives) to understand the same thing. Each method is like taking a different path in one of the parks. The more you visit these paths, the clearer they become.
Another of the Challenge Wheel’s most vital attributes is its emphasis on relatability. The presented Challenge is always positioned in a way that is relevant and beneficial to the learner immediately and in the long run. The process is designed to make learning enjoyable, with the Cognitive 3Rs at its core. These components facilitate reflection and foster a sense of progress in the learner. The embedded social interaction further enriches the experience, prompting individuals to explore and question.
What sets this approach apart is its alignment with brain processes and emphasis on autonomy. The iterative nature of the Challenge Wheel provides comforting predictability while being infinitely adaptable. The underlying foundation prioritizes psychological safety, making it a reliable tool for all learners, echoing the findings in Thomas Boyce’s research known as ‘The Dandelion & The Orchid.’
The “Dandelion” and the “Orchid” concepts stem from Boyce’s research into children’s responsiveness to environmental conditions. Dandelions are robust and can thrive in a wide variety of settings, much like individuals who adapt and flourish regardless of circumstances. Orchids, however, can wilt if conditions aren’t just right but can also blossom extraordinarily when in the right environment. As these children grow up, they can change a bit: Orchids might learn to handle things better, and Dandelions might sometimes feel overwhelmed. Personal growth, life experiences, and environmental shifts can influence how these traits manifest. Generally speaking, once an Orchid, always an Orchid, and once a Dandelion, always a Dandelion.
We designed the Challenge Wheel ‘for the Orchid,’ meaning we created an inclusive learning environment tailored to those who might be more sensitive or responsive to environmental stimuli. Here’s how this approach ensures a conducive learning atmosphere:
Stress Reduction: By catering to Orchids, the Challenge Wheel inherently addresses common anxiety triggers. The structured, predictable nature of the Challenge Wheel provides a clear roadmap of what’s to come, reducing uncertainty.
No Boredom: Surprise and novelty continuously stimulate the learner’s interest. When learners are engaged and can relate to the content, boredom is pushed to the sidelines.
Freedom from Entrapment: The framework gives learners agency and autonomy, fostering an environment where they don’t feel cornered or overwhelmed. They have the freedom to reflect, revise, and review at their own pace.
Safety and Assurance: The predictability of the Challenge Wheel framework, combined with its focus on the learner’s perspective, builds trust. Learners know they are in a space where their emotional and cognitive needs are prioritized.
Engagement Over Worry: With the Challenge Wheel’s emphasis on emotional connection (Affect before Effect), learners are more invested in the content, leaving little room for external worries to creep in.
Now, when everyone in the group, including Dandelions, is placed in such an optimized environment, the collective learning experience is elevated. Dandelions, although adaptable, also benefit from a rich, stimulating, and supportive environment. The entire group achieves deep understanding because the barriers to learning are minimized, and the enablers of engagement, comprehension, connection, and reflection are maximized. When the most sensitive among us are nurtured, everyone flourishes.
Dandelions, known for their resilience and adaptability, also benefit immensely.
Enhanced Learning Experience: Even if Dandelions can manage in less optimal settings, they still gain from a more prosperous, more stimulating environment. The nuances and depths of the Challenge Wheel can provide insights and perspectives that they might not encounter in a standard learning setting.
No ‘Coasting’: Due to their adaptability, Dandelions might coast through many traditional environments without being genuinely challenged. The Challenge Wheel ensures engagement and Challenge for all, pushing Dandelions to explore more profound understanding and connections.
Emotional Resonance: While Dandelions are resilient, they are not void of emotions or preferences. The emotional connection emphasized in the Challenge Wheel (Affect before Effect) resonates with everyone, Dandelions included. They, too, appreciate content that speaks to their emotions and experiences.
Peer Learning: In a Challenge Wheel environment where everyone is engaged and contributing, Dandelions can benefit from the insights and reflections of their Orchid peers, leading to a richer collaborative learning experience.
Encouragement of Depth: The design of the Challenge Wheel encourages learners to explore deeper, reflect more, and connect various pieces of information. When given this encouragement, Dandelions can explore depths of topics they might not have otherwise.
While the Challenge Wheel is designed for Orchids, its principles are universal in promoting deep understanding, engagement, and emotional resonance. Although resilient and adaptable, Dandelions still flourish more vibrantly in such a well-constructed environment we often call ‘Greenhousing.’
“Greenhousing” as a term for this learning structure is profoundly fitting. Just as a greenhouse provides a controlled, nurturing environment for plants to thrive, the Challenge Wheel’s design ensures a conducive, safe, and supportive environment for all learners. The emphasis on addressing the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) ensures that the environment minimizes stress and optimizes engagement.
The benefits of “Greenhousing” in a Business Context are instantly appreciated.
Enhanced Employee Performance: When employees are in an optimal state of learning, they absorb and apply knowledge more effectively. This state translates into improved job performance, increased innovation, and better problem-solving skills.
Reduced Training Time: An environment that caters to both Orchids and Dandelions can accelerate the learning process. With everyone engaged and the barriers to understanding removed, businesses can reduce the time and resources spent on training.
Inclusivity and Diversity: By catering to Orchids, businesses inherently support an inclusive learning environment, a key component in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, fostering a culture of respect and understanding.
Higher Employee Retention: Employees value workplaces that invest in their growth and well-being. A “greenhoused” learning environment can lead to higher job satisfaction and reduce turnover rates.
Collaboration and Teamwork: Collaboration thrives when everyone is on the same page, and all voices are valued. The shared experiences in the learning environment can break down silos and promote cross-team collaboration.
Innovation Boost: A safe and inclusive learning environment encourages employees to think outside the box, take risks, and share novel ideas, leading to breakthrough innovations that drive business growth.
Resilience in Change: Businesses constantly evolve, and adaptability is critical. An environment with trained employees to embrace and understand new concepts readily can weather changes more smoothly.
In essence, the “Greenhousing” approach in learning, rooted in the principles of the Challenge Wheel, doesn’t just benefit individual learners. It has a ripple effect, touching every facet of a business, driving growth and innovation, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and continuous learning.
Rose Sanders from Beacon Building Products as she discusses the game-changing Neuroscience of Learning and the impact of the Brain-centric Instructional Designer (BcID) certification.
This isn’t just about communication; it’s about understanding the essence of how our brain embraces information and what makes us passionate about learning.
Rose Sanders, Beacon Building Products
Said Rose, “I know, they’re like the nested egg and and the process is kind of the main, or I feel like it’s supposed to be, the main takeaway, but the, the thing that I was most surprised by is how much I guess power we have over our brain, and also, at the same time, how much power our brain has over us.
“Like, if if we’re not aware of it, it is running the show. But the more we’re conscious that we can make changes, the more we can make changes.
“And, also apply that same logic to not controlling other people but Using their brains for us, rather than against us.”
Interested? Classes are starting: https://www.brain-centric.com and https://training.brain-centric.com/brain-centric-basics-2023
Imagine, if you will, a world where our friendly neighborhood robots have taken over all our mundane tasks.
They are churning out reports, handling customer inquiries, even brewing our coffee to perfection.
Pretty cool, right?
But wait, you might ask, where does that leave us mere humans?
In charge! We still have a brain!
With AI everywhere, how can I leverage my own brain to succeed no matter what?
What AI brings to the table is efficiency, precision, and the ability to process vast amounts of data – all fantastic assets in today’s fast-paced business world.
However, what it doesn’t have is the ability to ponder the mysteries of the universe, adapt to unfamiliar situations on the fly, make intuitive judgments, or empathize with a customer who’s having a bad day.
And that’s where we come in.
In an AI-filled business world, it’s those uniquely human cognitive skills – like curiosity, adaptive expertise, analytical judgment, and emotional intelligence – have become our superpowers.
We won’t just be valuable for what we can do, but for how we think, how we adapt, how we connect with others, and how we ask questions that no one else has thought of.
The big difference between us and AI is emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize, understand, AND MANAGE our own emotions and the emotions of others.
Analytical judgment is a big homosapien bonus and is about more than crunching numbers.
Again, it’s about asking the right questions, identifying patterns, and making intuitive leaps that an AI, bound by algorithms and data sets, simply can’t replicate.
The ability to write prompts that push AI to generate better responses requires an understanding of not only how AI works, but also how humans communicate, think, and learn – a fascinating blend of technological knowledge and psychological insight.
The demand for these cognitive skills is soaring, because while AI can automate, we innovate.
While AI follows algorithms, we follow curiosity and intuition.
Our ability for emergent thinking, the ability to think outside the box, to connect disparate ideas and come up with innovative solutions, the secret sauce that keeps businesses on the cutting edge and drives innovation and growth… Well, In a sea of AI-driven efficiency, it’s our human spark of creativity that sets us apart.
Focus on enhancing your uniquely human skills and leveraging them to their fullest potential. As the brain saying goes, “Robots are for answers. Humans are for questions.”
Rather than being taught the skills and processes necessary to think critically and independently, we’re just told to think.
It’s like being given a map without ever being taught how to read it.
Be a non-conformist. Think!
Just like a map is useless without the skills to read and interpret it, information is useless without the ability to think critically and evaluate it.
Consider how much of your thinking is influenced by others, whether it’s the media, your peers, or authority figures…not much of your thinking is really your own, and it is more a reflection of the views and opinions that have been handed down to you.
Ask yourself, “How would knowing how to think benefit me?”
People are beginning to understand that our culture values conformity over independent thought, compliance over thinking independently and critically.
Without the ability to think critically and independently, individuals struggle to analyze information, make informed decisions, or question the status quo.
It’s a bit unsettling to realize that you may not have been taught how to think, it’s also a chance to take control of your own thinking and become a more independent and effective thinker.
Thinkers are characterized by their curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to consider alternative viewpoints.
They are not afraid to challenge assumptions and biases, and are always seeking to expand their knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
In addition to being analytical and reflective, thinkers are often creative and innovative. They are able to generate new ideas and approaches, and are willing to take risks in pursuit of their goals.
They’re also the most valuable asset in any business, group or activity.
Or, you can simply accept information at face value without questioning it, rely on others to provide you with opinions and beliefs and how do that thing you do.
Like ‘laugh tracks’ on television shows…
Laugh. Here. That was funny.
Fun 😐 Sad.
Go ahead, be a non-conformist. Learn to think!
Question assumptions, Evaluate evidence, consider multiple perspectives, practice reflection, seek out challenges and realize this brain is an instrument you can learn and utilize for the things you naturally think of.
Thinking and communicating clearly is important because it helps you make good choices and solve problems.
When you can think carefully and talk with others, you can understand different ideas and make smart decisions.
We are drowning in information, and information is useless without the ability to analyze and interpret it.
As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance and reshape the workplace, people are increasingly turning to Brain-centric Instructional Designer Certification to ensure their abilities to think critically and creatively make them more valuable and relevant to their employers.
In today’s marketplace, where automation and algorithms are becoming more prevalent, individuals must distinguish themselves by harnessing their human cognitive abilities. Certification training offers a comprehensive approach to enhance critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills that are essential for the evolving job market.
“You’ve never been taught to think. Only told to think.” said Rich Carr, founder of Brain-centric Design. “Individuals and enterprises are recognizing the need to develop their cognitive abilities to remain relevant in their industries and to stand out in an ever-evolving job market. Globally, that’s what we do!”
Brain-centric’s approach has yielded global success stories, such as the experience of Andrea Reindl owner of Legacy Creative, a branding & instructional design firm that recently completed certification training with their whole staff. “This training has taught us how to communicate clearer, develop better creative solutions for clients, and create training programs & brand strategies that are more effective in less time,” said Reindl. “It has been a game-changer for our organization, and we look forward to how it will help us grow.”
According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, demand for cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and complex information processing is growing. The report estimates that by 2030, demand for higher cognitive skills will increase by 19 percent, while demand for physical and manual skills will decline by 14 percent.
“Forward-thinking organizations need to create environments that embrace and unlock the potential of the whole employee.” said Linda Jingfang Cai, Global Head of Learning and Talent Development, LinkedIn in LinkedIn Learning’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report.
Brain-centric Design’s Certification training is designed to equip individuals with the necessary tools to excel in a constantly changing job market. The program provides a comprehensive approach to enhancing cognitive abilities, including critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and effective communication.
Ozioma Egwuonwu, Chief Strategic Transformation Officer, BurnBright International, recently received the Certified Brain-centric Instructional Designer (BcID) from Carr Knowledge & The Institute for Connecting Neuroscience with Teaching & Learning.
The BcID® certification promotes the learning sciences in cognitive neuroscience competency standards through a uniform global program. Credential individuals must successfully complete a 13-week mentorship with Brain-centric Design (BcD) founders, Rich Carr and Kieran O’Mahony, PhD, in addition to 28 deep understanding vertical BcD sessions delivered online. A complete cognitive presentation utilizing the BcD framework must be developed, presented, and accepted for inclusion in the Neuroscience of Learning Academy for global distribution.
Carr Knowledge specializes in showing individuals & organizations how to innovate thinking for retention, depth, & understanding of any concept, presentation, or delivery of new information and is the developer of Brain-centric Design. Carr Knowledge and its allied BcIDs advance the Cognitive Culture to hypergrowth industry across all segments through advocacy, research, education, and the promotion of high cognitive standards of neuroscientific, psychologically safe, and professional practices.
Learners believe “If it’s about me here and now, I’m in.”
Also known as the attentional aspect of learning, the people that understand this simple aspect of successful communication (aka Sales, Management, Teaching, Parenting, et al) tend to get more of what they want. Why is that?
A group of high-level managers from a large international bank in Silicon Valley was invited to tackle a corporate challenge regarding federal compliance laws that forced employees to work from and learn to articulate carefully constructed business requirements. Instead of the usual conference with a bullet-pointed list and a sandwich tray, we placed these managers in an instant brain-centric state of Me Here Now.
As executives filed into the room, they gasped. It was chaos. The tables were askew, and the chairs were splayed out, some tipped onto the floor. The room was freezing. A laptop set to the side of the room was blaring a stream Polka music. The coffee machine was unplugged and had used paper cups piled next to it. Stale cookies from the previous day’s meeting were still on the main table. Plates and crumbs were scattered around. No one was there to greet them at the door. The facilitator wasn’t in the room at all.
“What’s going on?” asked one manager to another.
After a few minutes, the group became aggravated that started writing a list to catalog everything that was wrong about the meeting so they could document this disaster and complain. They weren’t trying to be difficult—these managers were simply used to things going smoothly. After a few more minutes, the facilitator entered the room, announcing, “You’ve just experienced a lack of business requirements. Thank you for reacting exactly as anticipated. The emotions and actions that have just taken place let you feel, personally, why it’s critical to understand business requirements—so that something like this doesn’t happen with projects you champion.”
That’s the impact of Me Here Now. Instead of telling these managers what they needed to work on, the facilitator showed them why it was necessary. The facilitator made them feel it instead of attempting to understand it intellectually. The learning event is also an example of disequilibrium (Piaget referred to this as a moment disequilibrium), when what you expect is not what you get, which can be very effective to keep people in their best attentional space. When used correctly, disequilibrium instantly hooks a learner. They don’t just want an explanation—they demand one.
Two simple brain-centric tools – Me Here Now and Disequilibrium – intentionally applied for delivering information the way the brain accepts it, and how people love to learn.
These managers were now ‘in the learning’ and had intrinsic motivation to learn the content. In building this experience the attentional aspect was delivered with the intentionality of linking the understanding across the four lobes of the brain to form structured connections of visual, spatial, verbal, even olfactory perspectives anchored in a story.
Some people get more of what they want because they communicate cognitively as in the bank manager’s story. Some people present bullet-pointed Death By PowerPoint and wonder why the hell they’re working so hard and getting nowhere.
Take control of the learning space. The best way to keep their attention is never to lose it.
Our innate capacity to learn, to think, to create, and adapt endowed us with the evolutionary advantages necessary to become one of the most successful organisms on the planet.
In spite of mankind’s amazing potential, it is an ironic truism of modernity that our US educational system is losing massive numbers of young learners each year to boredom, stress, and disengagement, (1, 2) the same learners who can memorize 10,000 Pokémon characters and devote countless hours to leveling up on a Skinnerian game like Angry Birds(3), act up, act out, and drop out in increasing and frightening numbers. According to Sir Ken Robinson modern American Education has fallen prey to the terrible twin pillars of a collapsing 19th Century dinosaur which we know as the Industrial Revolution:
(i) Stuck in an outmoded economic theory, and
(ii) Post-colonial cultural quagmire. A mere 100 years ago, E. P. Cubberley, dean of education at Stanford (back in the day), was instrumental in drawing up the blueprint for American public education, with this infamous pronouncement
“Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.”(4)
Thus was birthed, the factory conveyor-belt system that purports to make education efficient and cheap, but which, in reality, has failed our young people from the very outset. (5) We know that labeling and stratifying children are a disservice to both the individual and the educational system.(6) The latest research in neuroscience and learning sciences attest to mistakes of a system that has defined our stagnant educational achievement scores since the 1950s.(7) Emergent research in neurobiology(8) and epigenetics(9) further define the incredible errors of a system that continues to fail our children by not taking into account the individual’s autonomic nervous system reactivity to social context or polygenic score that dictates an individuals propensity to learn or not. In other words, we have been straddled to our detriment with an outmoded system for more than a century—and it shows.
All children have unlimited potential. To label is to limit. Every label is a step away from limitless possibilities. Data from the online Kahn Academy confirms this. All children can earn an A. Some do it immediately, some take a little time, and others take a little more time. But we do not punish them based on the snapshot of a particular day.
The problems associated with an outmoded behaviorist teaching system is ubiquitous. Teachers, Facilitators, Salespeople, Parents, & Trainers, struggle with their work every day. And its not just in the classroom. If you’re a Trainer you fight this process every time you engage a new hire, every time you learn a skill yourself, and every time you teach your child something new. You’re not alone—everyone uses this traditional method to some degree, subconsciously and with intentionality.
It’s not your fault. You’re just using the tool we’re all familiar with. You were introduced to this method in grade school, drilled in it by high school, owned it through higher education. And by the time you entered the workforce, it had solidified into your psyche. And like everyone else, it’s likely the only approach to teaching you’ve ever known. So why would you think to use anything else?
John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, and author, succinctly writes to the frustration of the matter. He states, “If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.”(10)
The most widespread and traditional model of teaching/learning is rooted in an antiquated behaviorist ideology (one that fell out of favor with learning scientists and psychologists who described a cognitive revolution in the mid-1950s). Referred to often as operant conditioning, instrumental learning, stimulus-response, or classical conditioning it harkens back to Pavlov’s salivating dog, Thorndike’s hungry cat escaping a puzzle box, and Skinner’s pigeons that could ‘read’ or ‘drop’ bombs. Indeed, it appeared to work well for animals that were half-starved and willing to work for food (reward) and/or avoid electric shocks (punishment), but it doesn’t necessarily work so effectively for well-fed children or humans who are able to use their brains and think with their free will. Behaviorism operates in a system where rewards for good behavior are intended to reinforce and increase the good behavior, while punishment for bad behavior is designed to decrease said bad behavior. This carrot and stick method does not work for people since it is premised on extrinsic motivators—the very rewards and punishments designed to instigate intrinsic motivation.
We’ve found that it works great for dogs, cats, & pigeons—at least for hungry dogs, cats, & pigeons—but it doesn’t work for people…especially people who aren’t hungry.
In preschool, depending on the teacher and the classroom environment, you were somewhat free to experiment as you learned. No one was grading you on your Lego house or your finger paintings. What’s more, you weren’t wondering whether your Lego houses were good or bad. Instead, you were simply delighted by the act of creating something out of nothing. You were more or less able to learn how to interact with other children and the world around you on your own terms, in your own way.
Once you entered kindergarten, however, things changed. You received your first grades, cleverly disguised as star stickers or smiley faces. At this young age, the education system already stratified you as a three-star, two-star, one-star, or no-star student. You could barely tie your shoes, yet you could already separate the “smart” kids from the “dumb” kids. In grade school, aptly named for the time in your life that arbitrary letters A – F dictated your self-worth, the plot thickened and your identity became absorbed by your academic score. At six years old, you could clearly see some of your classmates advancing more quickly than others.
As you moved through the grades, this structure became more and more apparent. By high school, some children and young adults received college credit, while others struggled in remedial classes. If you graduated from high school, you decided whether to continue your education or join the workforce. Your high school GPA greatly influenced that decision. Whatever route you chose, this system further stratified you.
If you went on to college, you continued as an A–F student, with your average letter grade determining whether you could advance to postgraduate education, and subsequently determining how much money you would make as an adult.
If you pursued employment, that A turned into a raise, a better office space, or prestige among your colleagues. That F often transposed into poor work reports or lateral/downward movements in the company.
What happened to the brain with limitless potential? Had it not been present in first grade and all the way up through university and then your career? Why did labeling & stratification prevent some people from achieving their true potential? Do you know people who fell by the wayside in this perverse academic and stratified journey? When it gets personal, we realize traction. When it is “my child” or “my sister or brother” who is struggling in a reward-punishment system, then we are willing to look deeper into the situation and suggest solutions that make sense from a neurobiological standpoint.
The neuroscience of learning wasn’t available a few years ago. It is now–a 100% proven pedagogic model. Innovative school districts are clamoring for professional development (PD) for Neural Education.(11) Innovative businesses are implementing Brain-centric Design with jaw-dropping results.(12) These neuroscience methods deliver information the way the brain accepts it, and how people love to learn.
If ‘Innovative’ is defined as, introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking, and a better, scientifically-proven way to educate is available, now, shouldn’t we all move forward? Now?
If you’re lucky, you can scrape by teaching with traditional models. If you’re unlucky, they zap your audience’s desire to learn.
It’s time to unlearn & relearn learning.
1. W. Haney, G. Madaus, L. Abrams, J. Miao, I. Gruia, “The education pipeline in the United States 1970-2000,” (The National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, Boston, 2004).
2. University of California, California high school dropouts cost state $46.4 billion annually. UC Santa Barbara. 2007 (http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/display.aspx?pkey=1643).
3. R. Stevens, T. Satwicz, L. McCarthy, in The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, K. Salen, Ed. (The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008), pp. 41-66.
4. E. P. Cubberley, Public school administration: a statement of the fundamental principles underlying the organization and administration of public education. (Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1916).
5. N. Chomsky, Review of B. F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior. Language 35, 26-58 (1959).
6. C. Wendelken et al., Frontoparietal structural connectivity in childhood predicts development of functional connectivity and reasoning ability: A large-scale longitudinal investigation. Journal of Neuroscience 37, 8549-8558 (2017).
7. A. J. Coulson, New NAEP scores extend dismal trend in US Education productivity. CATO at Liberty, Cato Institute. 2013.
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Expertise (coupled with efficiency) is a critical workplace capacity. The challenge is to activate the potential of our learners, but also to be agile, competitive, and empathetically responsible for the consumers we serve.
An employee’s healthy connection to job and place of employment is essential to sustain a lifelong learning approach where social contribution is tangible, and where personal fulfillment is balanced with corporate interests. With Brain-centric Design (BcD), learners can achieve their true potential and make meaningful contributions that give them a sense of belonging, and a personal sense of purpose, while advancing corporate goals. We achieve these attributes and skills because BcD’s model promotes Long-term Potentiation.
Long-term Potentiation (LTP) is a physical change in the brain – in a good way – at the synapse. The synapse is the currency of learning. Daily intentional use of classroom activities serves to anchor each learner’s understanding in a favorite word or concept that supports growth at the synapse. On the axon/terminal side, presynaptic release mechanisms activate more neurotransmitters and release them into the synaptic cleft. On the other side of the synapse, dendrites activate significantly more post-synaptic receptors to support “firing and wiring” of neurons for stronger and more myelinated connections. In other words, the model is building structures in the learner’s brains that result in learning with deep understanding.
The outcomes are immediate. New learning is stored – remembered – as near-permanent instead of being forgotten shortly after presented. This scientific breakthrough was presented to the world at Columbia College Teacher’s University to educational professionals, administrators, and leaders from more than 50 countries where it was announced – in peer-reviewed journals – describing how BcD pedagogy increases long term potentiation and, in doing so, reverses the infamous Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve (1850): Brain-centric Design Reverses the Ebbinghaus Curve
Learner Agency is the ‘magic’ that springs from this structure (BcD). When learners have the motivation and ability to take ownership of their learning, outcomes improve dramatically. Learners with agency are more likely to deeply understand and to demonstrate the persistence that is emblematic of adaptive expertise and growth mindset. They are more likely to enjoy their work/position and be happier. Learners with agency are self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting, and self-regulated. While agency can’t be taught, it can be fostered. BcD facilitators know how to support student autonomy, competence, and relatedness to the content presented in the BcD model.
Autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose are fundamental attributes to intrinsic motivation. These, in turn, are foundational blocks of learner agency. Learner agency implies an intrinsically motivated desire on the part of the learner, which goes beyond basic engagement – where a learner engages with the work for its own sake, not just for extrinsic motivators such as receiving good grades, pleasing bosses or punching the clock.