Me, Here, Now. I’m In!

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.

Time To Unlearn & Relearn Learning

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.

Operant Conditioning flowchart

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 (

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).

Long-term Potentiation & Agency

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.

Forget About ‘The Forgetting Curve’​

Transformational change defines 21st-century living. This change is NOT ONLY prevalent in business and technology—it touches every part of our lives and especially our learning. How people learn is currently experiencing a 21st-century revolution in a fast-paced world where ‘routine’ experts are being replaced by robots (e.g., Amazon, Boeing, et. al.), and ‘adaptive’ experts are key to progressive mindsets. Adaptive people learn in a different way—a way that includes deep understanding for application in the real world. This kind of adaptive engagement in any workplace ensures a fulfilled, secure, and upwardly mobile employee.

Most people are not aware of this learning revolution!

If you are presenting any information to a new audience, you are probably doing so in the same model that has been used for two or three generations. In other words, we each have been educated (teaching, selling, managing, training, parenting) in the exact same way for more than 100 years. The ‘same way’ looks like this:

Say/Show/Teach/Present your content

1) Test your learners (Memory Recall)

2) Grade your learners (Label/Stratify)

3) Manage retention loss (Wonder why learners don’t retain much)

Look familiar? It’s how we all learned, so it’s no wonder why you use it today.

Education, in all its forms, is the only profession where those who educate are almost totally unaware of the primary tool they use in learning; the Brain.

Call your class/course/pitch what you want, but at the end of the day, no matter what you do, you know that 80% of what you presented will be forgotten. That ‘fact’ is ubiquitous: it was established by Ebbinghaus in 1885 and has been robustly confirmed ever since. Ebbinghaus’ infamous ‘forgetting curve’ describes a progressive decrease in knowledge retention with elapsed time since learning.

That was 1885. This is the 21st century. Knowledge has changed and you need to take heed.

Advances in neuroscience and learning sciences have led to the field of Cognitive Learning Sciences. In June 2019, at Columbia University’s historic Teacher’s College, Cognitive Learning Neuroscientist Dr. Kieran O’Mahony presented empirical research on why you can now forget about ‘The Forgetting Curve’.

This transformational change for learning is the result of O’Mahony’s Brain-centric Design (BcD) research and the surprising neuroscience behind learning with deep understanding. In short, BcD is a cognitive model that presents information the way your brain accepts it, and consequently delivers information the way people love to learn.

This is nothing like how you learned in school.

ICELW 2019, NY attendees embracing Brain-centric Design, The Surprising Neuroscience Behind Deep Understanding, O’Mahony presented Brain-centric Design’s exceptional results to 50 of the world’s top educators and scientists at the International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace (ICELW 2019, NY). In a surprising twist, Dr. O’ was asked to deliver an encore presentation for individuals who were not able to attend the inaugural lecture.

Later that same day, as the buzz of his findings and the magnitude of its effects settled on the gathering, the key takeaways from Brain-centric Design’s model delivered the following:

  • Learners retain ~100% of what is presented, the outcome of Long Term Potentiation (LTP)
  • Every learner participates, collaborates, and co-creates in a safe learning environment
  • Every learner acquires agency of their learning
  • Content delivery time reduced 40-50%

Remember Everything

Educators and Learners are drawn intuitively to this new learning paradigm and go deep when they realize the potential. It strips away how we’ve been taught in the past, replacing it with how we love to learn, naturally. Brain-centric Design’s model is agnostic of race, gender, age, culture, and subject matter.

If you have a brain, you are in the BcD world, and it works 100%.

“If you’re not presenting your information to the brain, what are you presenting it to?” asked O’Mahony to the international gathering of educators. “The brain’s potential is limitless if made to feel secure… the learner accesses the immediate benefits of this environment by focusing on, accepting, and making sense of the new information presented.” A BcD course is so different and so engaging, it takes only a single experience in the model to experience, own, and adopt the new paradigm.

BcD’s surprising neuroscience behind learning with deep understanding delivers several seminal results for your audience. First, immersion in the pedagogic model transforms each learner into an ‘adaptive expert’ mindset. Second, facilitators come to understand that classroom management issues decrease at the same time that learner agency and engagement increase.

For this reason, BcD is in heavy demand by Fortune 100 business units (including Talent Development, Human Resources, Learning/Training & Development) and from sales presentations to parent/child communication. Any presentation of new information to any audience can be presented how the brain accepts it, and how people love to learn.

As transformational change accelerates, measurement outcomes of this 21st-century learning model continue to grow and are irrefutable. Brain-centric Design is not clever… it is science; its impact on humankind is reliable, reproducible, and imminently universal.

Adaptive Vs. Routine Experts: Do You Know The Difference?

Does your team struggle when a new concept or technique is introduced, or do they use it to their advantage? Is change in the organization a stumbling block, or an opportunity?  More than just being business-led, and no matter if the management model is loose or controlled, the strongest determinant of your success is whether your team has adaptive expertise or routine expertise.

What’s the Difference?

A routine expert can master procedures in order to become highly efficient and accurate (but not flexible or adaptable in situations that are outside the routine). People who are routine experts can accelerate efficiency through well-practiced routines.

An adaptive expert is a broad construct that encompasses a range of cognitive, motivational, and personality-related components, as well as habits of mind and dispositions. Generally, problem-solvers demonstrate adaptive expertise when they are able to efficiently solve previously encountered tasks and generate new procedures for new tasks. Requires an individual to develop conceptual understanding that allows the “expert” to invent new solutions to problems and even new procedures for solving problems.

To illustrate, imagine two sushi chefs. One makes every piece perfectly, crafting the same few rolls over and over (routine, or classic, expertise). The other is inventive, producing new menus frequently (adaptive expertise). While the first chef can craft an incredible Tuna roll, they will struggle when they run out of the right ingredients. How does one make a California roll without cucumber or avocado? The second chef is used to thinking on their feet. An adaptive expert understands why cucumber and avocado is used in the first place, and therefore has a better chance of finding a substitute.

To some, this is an unfair comparison, as ones’ environment supports behavior. For example, the routine of the classic expert sushi chef may be tied to his restaurant environment, and this chef may be able to break out of the routines easily given a different situation.

Actually, that argument is exactly correct. You see, the organization that employs both chef’s has some control over how well each person understands their craft.

That means that you have the power and opportunity to foster a work culture of adaptive expertise.  

Why It’s Difficult to Foster Adaptive Expertise

People are taught to have routine expertise thanks to our school systems, learning & development departments, and instructional designers. 

As a result, most of us aren’t learning any faster than someone who lived 100 years ago. While you can recite information as quickly as your wireless connection allows, you aren’t retaining any more knowledge than people were at the start of the tech revolution.

Presentations haven’t gotten any better.  Many would argue they are a million times worse (think Death By PowerPoint).  In many respects, all technology has allowed us to do is move the bullet point list from the chalkboard to the smart board.

Use BcD to Create Adaptive Expertise

Brain-centric Design is the surprising neuroscience behind learning for deep understanding.  To “BcD” a presentation, is to align your material the way the brain will accept that information.  You want the learners, your audience, to understand and benefit from your knowledge by making it their information.  This is made possible through the cognitive approach to learning, or the way you learned before school.

Luckily for you, there is a recipe for cognitive learning. Or, as our Cognitive Learning Scientist Dr. Kieran O’Mahony calls it, a “pedagogic model.”

Presenting your information to your learners using the Brain-centric Design pedagogic model produces deep understanding in the learner.  This understanding enables adaptive expertise.  It is that simple.

Instructional Design For Marketing

Your sales team is much bigger than you think.

Much, much bigger.

Every single customer that purchases your product, learns how to use it, and correctly applies it to their particular situation, is now a brand advocate. Free of charge, from this point forward. The customer that understands your product—how it works, what particular benefits it creates, and the kind of buyer it’s for—will continue to share their experience with your product.

Of course, that’s only true if you attract the right customer (the one who can profit from your product) and if they leave the buying experience with the knowledge required to use that product correctly.

That’s why it’s critical that you and your entire team are skilled at imparting knowledge about the nature of your business to each and every one of your customers every chance you get.

The Brain-centric Design team excels at wrapping your product into a message that answers one particular question: “Why?” We know your customer needs to leave the interaction knowing why they are going to choose your company over something else.

Would the company be able to achieve this, if they’ve become modest about what they’re doing and decided not to inform their customers? Chances are, no. This is one way of making knowledge work for you.

We understand the power of answering why. Subway is arguably the pioneer of fast food sandwiches. When their first West Coast shop opened in Fresno in 1978, Subway dominated the sandwich market. However, as fast food gained in popularity, the team had to create a marketing solution that would elevate Subway above fast food giants like McDonald’s and Burger King.

Enter Jared Fogle to the scene. He claimed to have lost 200 pounds by eating subway sandwiches. The why? Subway will help you lose weight. Subway attributes between one-third and one-half of its growth from 1998 to 2011 to the campaign.

Would the company have achieved this if they decided not to inform their customers? Chances are, no.

This is one way of making knowledge work for you.

The Brain-centric Design team specializes in social psychology and adult learning techniques. So do our on-staff trained instructional designers. We are excited to develop your marketing campaign into a learning experience that underlines your customers’ reasons for coming back.

There are many benefits to helping your buyer get to know your why. Not only will they learn more about the role your company, services, and goods play, but they will also see you as a person who is eager to help them achieve their goals. Acts like these are what place your company above the rest.

What Is BcD? Results In 43% Less Time

Our case studies show that Brain-centric Design delivers results in 43% less time.

Industry leaders in high-stakes engineering (such as aerospace and auto), international banking organizations, large-scale medical and health facilities, global retail and manufacturing icons, K‒12 schools, and even mom-and-pop shops see a huge benefit from this methodology. We’ve even used BcD with a large manufacturer to help highly specialized and trained engineers completely relearn their jobs within months. After working with us and using BcD, both trainees and trainers end up liking their positions more.

We’ve gone into call centers and reduced attrition to zero within the first 12 months. That’s because when we present, learners retain the information. With BcD, nothing is forgotten, because learners are invited to think critically about their position, enabled to transform from a routine expert to an adaptive expert, engaged to adopt a growth mindset, and helped to understand enough to know where to find the answers they need.

BcD facilitators and Brain-centric Instructional Designers (BcIDs) have helped trainers take new hires who were just starting to meet their target performance goals in 18 months and reduced that to 12 days. That isn’t a typo. But the best news for the corporate execs who have contracted BcD teams is their improved bottom line, which often begins with BcD “self-funding” engagements—the savings in budgeted time pays for the corrective action to cognitive training. We’ve found the time spent learning and applying BcD pays for itself many times over.

The BcD method produces astounding results because it is the culmination of decades of peer-reviewed research in the areas of cognition and psychology, and aligns learning with how the human brain works and how people learn. It bridges the gap between education and neuroscience to provide a plan that works for every single learner, every single time.

These results aren’t surprising…at least not to us. Many corporations employ training that is too long, inefficient, and only partially successful. On the ground, that translates into preventable mistakes, a large number of retakes, time lost being unproductive, and high attrition rates. All these items are excruciatingly expensive, so it is no wonder that training and development departments have a bad rep.

In retrospect, it’s easy to predict that using a model of teaching that delivers information the way the brain likes to receive it would produce results. That’s because this isn’t guesswork. It’s not based on anecdotal evidence or a gut feeling.

It’s not clever…it’s science.

Chunking: Homeschooling’s Secret Weapon

Homeschoolers Are Chunkers

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 isn’t a new idea. George A. Miller’s famous 1956 paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus Or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information,” estimated the limit on our working memory. In that same paper, he outlined a solution, which he called chunking.

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.

Growth Mindset Training

Ever forward-facing organizations want nothing to do with an outdated learning system that hasn’t changed since the time of Aristotle. Isn’t it strange that the way we teach hasn’t evolved along with our society?

We are at a bizarre time in the twenty-first century where technology has given us easy access to information, yet we aren’t learning any faster. We are constantly bombarded by information but starved for wisdom.

Why Think About Mindset? 

As a business, our most valuable players are adaptive experts, cognitive thinkers, and those with growth mindsets. These are the team members that think outside the box. They bring something new to the table.

They are not satisfied in their Industrial two-dimensional schooling (and neither are you). This schooling is black and white. It is right-wrong up-down, supply-demand, and by the book.

The result in your top team members?
Boredom, frustration, fear, stress, and stagnation.

Organizational leaders, you do not want to box in your best people.

The New Way

In the 1990s, new ideas and applications of new neural teaching methodologies were anticipated by many to contribute to meaningful inroads into learning for K-12. Surprisingly, it is in the world of corporate training that manifested the biggest gains.
Grounded in Pasteur’s Quadrant, the theoretical and practical implications of a multiplicity of breakthrough insights have delivered practices and processes that when used by organizations, dramatically decrease attrition, substantially increase retention, and according to our case studies, make the learner and the trainer enjoy the process more.

One integral step in neuro-aligned teaching methods is a change in mindset.

Change Your Mindset

A growth mindset is underlying belief people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Changing one’s belief from a fixed to growth mindset leads to increased motivation and achievement.

As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to shape the mind of your team.
Researcher Aneeta Rattan and her colleagues asked math teachers to describe what they would say to encourage a student who had failed their first math test of the year. They found that the adults in a fixed mindset would usually say something like, “It’s okay, not everyone is good at math.” Teachers using a growth mindset approach would respond, “Try harder!” and then give the student practical advice so they could do better in the future.

Imagine what might happen if you applied this kind of thinking in your own organization? What if you focus on what your employees understand, instead of reprimanding them based on what they don’t?

Data from the Kahn Academy experiment indicate that 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. Many studies have shown that students who entered the classroom as low achievers and were taught by an instructor with a fixed mindset ended up showing little improvement throughout the year. This is referred to as the Pygmalion Effect, and it basically confirms what the teacher believes the child will achieve, as if in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This work has big implications within an organization.

BcD And You

Brain-centric Design™ (BcD) is the emergent catalyst in this world of task-based learning, application, and output. BcD™ translates neuro- discoveries into practical teaching systems that deliver powerful improvements in the workplace so that all individuals reach their potential. Participants immediately understand how to think about their thinking, regulate a lifetime of mental conditioning, and most importantly, do so effortlessly while sharing this method with others to achieve deep understanding.

Mental models and thinking systems that are unencumbered by regime, time, or bottom line, have liberated workers into a place of creative ignition. With BcD, output increased, sense of self and purpose improved, and above all, people engaged in the content in way that was driven by intrinsic motivation.

Mindset Metrics

BcD results are always significant and often breathtaking. We define paradigmatic shifts on three mental planes at once: 

(i)      Conceptual     (from Behaviorist to Cognitivist)
(ii)     Mindset           (from Fixed to Growth)
(iii)    Expertise         (from Routine to Adaptive)

The goal is twofold: 

(i)    Eliminate labeling and stratification in workplace practices
(ii)    Increase individual capacity in the field where neuroscience informs practices & processes. 

Brain-centric Design training enables individuals to connect to their world of four-dimensional expression.  Like many new concepts, BcD is simpler in the rearview mirror. 

  • A deep and contextual understanding of Neural Plasticity eliminates stratification and negative stereotyping of implicit bias. 
  • A comprehensive understanding of Adaptive Expertise eliminates labeling and ignites individuals to find their best selves, every time.
  • A meaningful application of knowledge about Growth Mindset illuminates every workplace setting, drives competency with intentionality, and delivers engaged and contented employees. 

It might be rocket science, but it’s definitely neuroscience.  

Growth Mindset enabled by Brain-centric Design™

To App, Or Not To App? That Is Today’s Question

In the context of learning and development, training, and other business settings, learning apps are sexy. They’re interactive and fun to use. They grab data and spit out metrics. They claim to offer easy solutions to big problems.

Apps in the workplace are tools to access a curated body of information aligning with a singular objective and agenda. For example, a sales app would not deliver the world’s knowledge of sales. Instead, it would provide a perspective from its creators for you to emulate. These would include select behaviors, situations, phrases, and tactics all assembled for you to try on your own.

Apps have their place—no argument—but for learning and development, they fall short. Apps are not the panacea for deep understanding! On the contrary, they are poor crutches for thinking and decision-making. In part, that’s because Artificial Intelligence (AI) is by definition…artificial. Apps can’t problem-solve or improvise to better suit the learner!

What can, you ask? The human brain!

Along with my colleague, Dr. Kieran O’Mahony[1], I had the immense pleasure last week to present at a tier one innovative company in Beaverton, Oregon.  For more than eight years, I’ve had the great fortune of collaborating with these creative people. As the first company to embrace Brain-centric Design™ on a global scale, they were successful at optimizing metrics that enabled them to monetize learning for both efficiency of instruction and increased consumer satisfaction.

This collaborative engagement showcases what’s happening in spaces where innovation is not based on an app.

Here, and elsewhere in our business travels, the application that we see growing each day in importance and prominence is not in the tech space.

It’s in the brain.

While many companies, and management within those companies, hear the siren’s song in a phone-based App, innovative companies are turning to the one App we all have. The focus is on its user-interface and how it can best be optimized for learning & development.

While many companies (and management within those companies) hear the siren’s song in a phone-based app, innovative companies are instead turning to the one app we all have. The focus? Its user-interface, or how we can optimize the brain for learning and development.

It is no surprise to neuroscientists that apps (which tend to be single user, single screen, distracted mind) rarely result in learning with deep understanding.

Learning with deep understanding is not a mystery. It simply requires a human interaction—one human speaking to other humans, collaborating and co-creating in a safe learning space.

As the geneticist and sociobiologist E. O. Wilson is quick to point out, today’s workers are inundated with information, but starved for wisdom.[2] The solution is within reach, as every organization has the capacity to ignite individual contributors, generators of ideas and implementers of meaningful practices.

Teach For Deep Understanding

Sounds easy enough until you realize that presenting information and having learners interact with that information is not enough to create deep understanding.

We’ve never really been taught a method where we’re allowed to think about our thinking in a cognitive way. This metacognitive stance is the essence of truly knowing a subject.

We were brought up in a school system that is two-dimensional—right answers or wrong answers, sit and listen, be passive intake units. The most common result for instructional designers and trainers was a regurgitation of that behaviorist approach (what we call the sage on the stage syndrome). Ergo, most presenters deliver new information to their learners in this way.

Be it an app, meeting, lecture, proposal, or presentation we often teach to deer in the headlights. We then evaluate based on whatever amount of information the audience was able to retain and them stratify them accordingly. If the attendees can remember even half of the information provided, we congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Especially if we were witty enough to add a game, append the word ‘Micro,’ defend our use of the color palette, add video and graphics, and a host of other buzzwords. All that flowery stuff is meant to do what? Emulate what the brain does naturally: think critically using our prefrontal cortex.

“Neuro is finally upon us,” cognitive learning neuroscientist Dr. Kieran O’Mahony stated. “Companies who place their trust in Applications and erstwhile behaviorist learning models are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic.” His audience of global learning leaders were captivated during a recent learning and development summit. “Remembering facts is not learning, it is memorization. Critical thinking, assessing situations, making decisions, and synthesizing big ideas—these cognitive skills are uppermost in the executive function of the prefrontal cortex. We all have this capacity, but sadly we too often suffer from EFI (Executive Function Impairment).”

As Dr. O’Mahony points out, cognitive learning, or learning that is constituent with how the brain works and how people learn is the new direction of training and education. It’s the buzz in the hallowed hallways of truly innovative companies. There is a reason Google’s DeepMind emulates the brain’s ability to make new neural connections.

That’s the very definition of learning.

[1] Dr. O’Mahony is a learning scientist in cognitive neurosciences from the University of Washington College of Education and National Science Foundation first Science of Learning center – LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments).

[2] American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author, E. O. Wilson is quoted from his work: Darwin’s natural heir. London, 2001