Train new staff more efficiently by understanding how the brain learns

April 14, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

Training staff takes time and money. But what if we could make staff training more efficient, so they remember more and can apply it to their work more quickly? It’s not hard to improve training, it just means understanding how people learn. The brain is a strange thing, and it has a few natural tendencies that we can take advantage of, once we know how they work.

Use visuals – the brain takes in visuals faster and remembers them better

Vision is our most dominant sense. So dominant, in fact, that it takes half our brain’s resources to power our vision. When we learn something visually, we’re more likely to remember it later. Especially when we’re learning about something concrete that can be easily represented with visuals; abstract concepts, on the other hand, may be best taught using stories or other mediums. Tip: add illustrations to your training materials to increase retention. According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, when information is presented orally and tested after 72 hours, we remember about 10%. If you add a picture to that information, we’ll remember about 65%. That’s a huge increase. Visuals trump text and auditory inputs for imparting information so much that as we read or listen, we tend to visualise the information with our imaginations anyway. But not every culture approaches visual information in the same way. For instance, urban Asians pay more attention to context and relationships between foreground and background objects in a visual scene than urban Americans, who tend to focus mostly on foreground objects. Using the same visual approach in every culture won’t necessarily yield the same results. Tip: Don’t assume the same training approach will work in every culture. Focus on what works best for different groups of people.

“The human eye senses movement before all else.” Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing

Even more than static images, we pay attention to movement. Animation draws our eye more than anything else, but other elements like color, shape, and size help draw the eye. Studies have even shown that simple shapes work best in an animation designed to impart information, as complex animations can take focus off the information. Tip: Use simple animations to explain concepts. When using static images, use color, size, and placement to draw the eye.

Include stories – we remember information better when it has an emotional impact

When we’re involved in an emotionally charged event, we remember the details more clearly later on. We also remember the event for longer. Tip: use stories to add emotional points to training. Stories give us a way to empathize with others. Including stories in training materials sporadically can help new staff better encode those learning points into their memories. We also tend to remember the emotions of an event better than the details itself. Think about an emotionally charged event you’ve been involved in: perhaps a car accident or a heated argument. You probably remember how you felt during the event more than every single detail of what happened. Tip: Focus on the overall gist first, then add details. Because we find it easier to hang onto the general gist of what happened and how we felt more than specific details, this is a good place to start with creating new memories. When you’re focusing on a new concept in your training, start with making the general idea clear and easy to grasp. When you move on to adding details, the brain already has the general idea ready to associate the details with. Adding each new element to a memory already created helps to solidify the memories better.

Include breaks – we can only focus for short periods

Whether we’re working or learning something new, we can only stay focused for short periods. Forcing the brain to keep working without breaks leads to sub-par work and frustration. Although the exact period of time we can concentrate for is debatable, and depends on each person and the situation, research shows it’s common during learning for people to drift off periodically. These moments of drifting attention tend to be short ”around one minute or less, ”but they happen more often during passive learning, such as listening to a lecture, than during active learning such as a demonstration or answering questions. Tip: Mix in hands-on activities with passive learning to keep the brain focused. People pay attention to passive learning more when it follows hands-on activities instead of coming first. Lapses in attention also tend to happen more regularly as a learning period goes on. Tip: Make sure new staff take regular breaks during training periods to refresh their attention spans. The best staff training will depend on your specific industry and the staff you’re working with. But hopefully you’ll find your training becomes more effective and more memorable by taking into account how people learn.

This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper

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