When you really want people to learn, the secret is simple: engage their emotions. Connect to a person’s emotion through knowing what turns them on and they will have a far deeper and more meaningful learning experience.
Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuro-scientist, claims in a recent New York Times article that “it is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about.”
The opposite then would be true as well…that “deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts.” Her view has been proven not only anecdotally but also by using a functional M.R.I. scanner that shows heightened brain function when a learner is emotionally engaged. “When students are emotionally engaged,” she said, “we see activations all around the cortex, in regions involved in cognition, memory and meaning-making, and even all the way down into the brain stem.”
It makes sense. Think back to your school days. How much fun (yes, fun) it was to learn from a lively, enthusiastic teacher or coach in a subject or sport you loved! And then think about how much more you remember of that experience. For me, much of chemistry has long been forgotten but reading and writing have been passions that have continued into my adult life.
For those of us in the workplace who focus on ensuring that there is transfer of training from a training workshop to the job, this research has important implications. It shows that if we can connect what we are trying to teach (knowledge, skills and behavior) to something that has relevance to an employee’s real world situation, deep learning can occur. That is what we must be able to demonstrate…true, personal value for each individual employee in a way that aligns with the needs of the business.
Once you have clearly identified the critical few behaviors you want to change and the desired performance improvement related to those behaviors, you need to clearly articulate how learning those behaviors will improve life on the job at the individual, team and company levels. Employees need to be convinced that there will be real and meaningful personal and professional benefits to the new behaviors.
For significant learning to take place, employees need to enthusiastically agree that it makes sense for them to make the effort to learn and change behavior. Once the learning is understood to be personally relevant, you can look toward real change…mastery and learning that lasts.