Sustainable unmatched performance gains are yours when there is cognition; the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
When what you present is seen as valuable to them, they listen.
You must apply creativity, critical thinking, and constant digital upskilling to solve complex problems. If you don’t, you’re done. The problem is, you’ve never been taught to think!
Suddenly, quicker than you can scream, “What’s all this cognitive talk…” you’ve been replaced with a bot, a robot, downsized, or replaced by somebody who knows how to think.
Think about it, wouldn’t you love to say that your last ________________ Chose as many that fit your need: Management Meeting Sales Presentation Facilitation Workshop Training Course Child Lecture
had every single person in attendance – inhouse and online – engaged, collaborating, and thinking about that piece of knowledge you were presenting, and how it elevated their place in the world?
It’s not what you’re saying; it’s how you’re saying it.
In other words, you are presenting your information with a goal in mind. When that presentation transforms from the model you currently use (Present, then ask Questions or Test)
to a cognitive model (Facilitating uncovery delighting every brain with multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving, decision making, and attention)
it’s easier to see why 21st-century learning skills, those that are cognitive, are in high demand.
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.
8. W. T. Boyce, The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, New York, 2018).
9. R. Plomin, Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are. (Random House, London, UK, 2018).
10. J. Medina, Brain Rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. (Pear Press, San Francisco, 2008).
11. T. K. O’ Mahony et al., in Edulearn 17: Neuroscience foundations – 9th Annual International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies. (Open Education Europe, Barcelona, Spain, 2017).
12. T. K. O’ Mahony, E. Thompson, R. Carr, in International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace. (Teachers College, Columbia University Teachers College, New York, 2019).
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.
Education has been using the same model for far too long. It looks something like this: schedule the whole day, section it into hours, section hours into classes, fill an hour with a class, and repeat.
The problem? For lots of reasons, that old model doesn’t work so well. To better understand why, take a look at homeschooling. Alternate models of education continue to turn out a higher-performing student even when actual “learning time” is dramatically reduced from the public school model.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) commissioned a study drawing data for the 2007-2008 school year from multiple standardized testing services. Once again, the national average percentile scores were higher in all subject areas by at least 34 percentile points, and as high as 39 percentile points. Factors such as parental college degrees, how much parents spent on education, level of state regulation, and sex of the students made little difference in the range of scores in all areas among the homeschooled children.
This trend continues in a 2015 study, which begs the question:
How are homeschoolers so dang good at teaching?
While there are various arguments on why homeschooled students outperform their peers, from personal experience, I can attest that parents who homeschool (whether they know it or not) practice the art of “chunking.”
What Is Chunking?
Educational chunking is the process by which individual pieces of information are bound together into a meaningful whole. In other words, it’s the savvy of taking a large piece of information and breaking it down to palatable portions for the student.
Chunking is the simple art of breaking a big item into several smaller items to increase retention.
Educational chunking requires carefully examining the manner in which students will experience new content. If you were looking for loftier words with intricate meanings, you won’t get it here. With chunking, no words are wasted.
Chunking is used in motor learning, memory training systems, expertise and skilled memory effects, short-term memory, and long-term memory structures.
The Folly Of Traditional Methods
Outdated methods of teaching continue to be put into use, even in forward-thinking industries. If you were to look at all the news that surrounds Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) you’d see an industry struggling to take advantage of available, neuro-aligned methods.
The issue at hand is not MOOCs per se, but more the manner in which they approach teaching. Far too often, “streaming lectures” are called online education. The problem is that streaming a lecture doesn’t deliver any better retention than sitting in the classroom. Again and again, studies show that sitting in a lecture for 50 minutes, scribbling down some notes, and circling back next week with a brief review IS NOT the best way to learn.
Why We Chunk
I could point at nearly anybody, anywhere, and find them with their face firmly planted in the screen of their mobile device. Have you ever wondered how long each of them stays focused on one thing while interacting with that screen? The answer is 8…SECONDS!
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, research from January of 2014 says the average attention span is 8 seconds. In Bull Riding that makes you money. In education that causes ulcers.
Jokes aside, our short attention spans could be getting shorter. Fascinatingly, research from Microsoft Corp. suggests this is an adaptation to a mobile internet. With so many distractions vying for our attention, it’s tricky to focus on one task without interruption for too long.
Amusingly, the average attention span of a goldfish (from the same study) is 9 seconds. A goldfish has a better attention span than you do.
Chunking In Your Business
The good news is that anyone can learn how to chunk
information. The next time you’re scheduled to present information, gather your
materials in advance. Try to review them as if you were learning the content
for the first time. Then, take a pair of
scissors and chop of your materials so you can rearrange the content. Pair similar
content and ideas together.
When it comes to chunking, less is more. You may find that
you have to save some material for next time.
To figure out what to teach, ask yourself, “If my leaves
with one single bit of information, what should it be?” Make that item your
focus and align the rest of your content around it.
The most obvious benefit of chunking is that a laundry list of ideas becomes just a few categories.
The less obvious benefit is that when one of those topics is brought up, it activates a larger neural pathway in the learner’s brain. That’s important because the more connections, the greater the power of cognitive processing. Another benefit of chunking is that it enables an educator to convey information in a shorter amount of time.
This simple process will help you better understand how to bring deep understanding to your organization.