For new learning to occur and become permanent, new circuits must be created in a learner’s brain where there’s a mismatch between the existing and the new data Obviously, there’s no way for a trainer to know if there is a mismatch, which might occur even if a learner is willing to learn, and current training models assume that offering new content with practice will automatically cause new brain circuitry but it does not. This causes a disparity between training and learning.
Trainers have good information to share, but learners may not be able to learn it because of the way their brains are set up.
Indeed, current training practices of sharing/presenting data and setting up experiential practice assumes learners will know how to accurately translate and accept the new knowledge and know what to do with it. Due to the way brains accept incoming data, this may not be the most effective technique to help folks learn.
WHAT ARE BEHAVIORS?
The goal of training is to create new behavioral activity in the learner. The assumption is that with the proper information, a learner will know what to change and how. But obviously that’s a false assumption. Let me explain how content enters a learner’s brain.
All that we do, all of our behaviors, arise from a specific and idiosyncratic configuration of beliefs, norms, patterns and habits that are the foundation of each person’s brain circuitry. I call this our status quo.
When an incongruence emerges, when a behavior causes unacceptable outcomes, it can only be changed, but will change permanently only if the status quo, the factors and elements that caused the behavior, changes. Attempting to change a behavior without changing the circuitry that created it is impossible.
To be accepted and acceptable, incoming content must be congruent with our personal norms and beliefs – our system – or it will be rejected or resisted; the new content must either match what’s already been accepted and a part of our brain’s normal operating system, or be congruent enough with our norms and personal factors for our brain to be willing to create new circuits.
Current training uses information communicated by a trainer or coach, offered for learners to accept and adopt. It does nothing to enable new circuits to be formed, and succeeds with those who already have circuits in place to accept the incoming data.
According to test done on post-training retention, somewhere around 80% of learners don’t learn – and more don’t retain the data for more than a month. There are reasons why:
- Listeners/learners only understand what’s being said according to how their historic, ‘close- enough’, brain circuits translate the incoming data. In other words, we only understand what’s said to us according to what we already know. Anything new or outside our circuitry gets misunderstood, mistranslated, or resisted. Unfortunately, trainers assume that if the material is presented properly it should be learned and adopted. Given our brain’s inability to accurately hear/understand new material, that’s a faulty assumption.
- Trainers use their own goals/intent, their own verbiage and presentation style, and assume if they say/present it properly learners should accept and adopt it.
- The current training model, based on information sharing and practice/behavioral repetition, doesn’t help learners build new brain circuitry for repeat, automatic, unconscious behaviors.
A big piece of how learners learn (or not) is a brain problem: brains just don’t automatically enable the creation of new circuits to translate incoming data. Let me explain what happens in our brains that causes this disparity.
HOW BRAINS HEAR
Sound, voice, words, etc. enters our awareness as puffs of air with no meaning and are merely electro-chemical vibrations that get filtered through our existing beliefs, values, history, assumptions, and mental models as they enter our brains, then sent to close-enough existing circuitry for interpretation.
Where there is a disparity, where our historic translations of earlier incoming vibrations don’t exactly match the incoming data, our brains ‘kindly’ fix it for us: they either discard the overage (the signals that don’t match up) or add meaning where signals are missing – and block out unexpected possibilities. The worst part is that our brains don’t tell us when they add, subtract, or reject. We’re left believing whatever our brain tell us, X% of the truth.
So net net, our brains are biased, and translate (and mistranslate, delete, misunderstand, and misinterpret) incoming sound vibrations (i.e. words, ideas, etc) according to historic knowledge and existing circuits.
Unfortunately, due to how the incoming content is juxtaposed with existing circuitry, the way the trainer speaks, and intent of the trainer, incoming data may unwittingly go against the learners values/beliefs causing them to ‘hear’ inaccurately, regardless of the need for the new data or the skill of the presenter. Unfortunately, it’s unconscious and unwitting.
Of course the new data must be offered. But when? I contend there’s a way to expand the area within the brain where the new data would fit, so it’s ready to learn, think, adopt, accept something new.
HOW LEARNING OCCURS
Learning is a systems thing.
There is no way for change to be accepted unless the system that holds the status quo in place is willing to add something new/change. And since information is translated according to the Responders criteria and existing circuitry already in place (obviously biased and subjective), it’s necessary to teach the system to recognize and define its change criteria to add possibilities. Brains have neuroplasticity and are always willing to change. The question is how.
As I trainer I know I have nothing to teach if they have nothing/no way to learn. I design training programs based on facilitating brain change. In general, I create experiences that teach learners where they have incongruences in their brains. Using role plays, trial exercises that cause learners to ‘do’ things they don’t yet know how to do, and questionnaires that cause learners to notice unconscious choices, learners begin to recognize where they have incongruences. And if you know the brain, systems don’t like incongruence.
It’s in these spaces of noticed incongruence, their own unconscious drivers and beliefs/values/norms/rules that created and maintain the current behaviors, assumptions and triggers, that learners actually seek new knowledge and are able to add new content to old brain pathways. Ultimately, learners take away their own courses and learn precisely what they’re ready and able to learn.
Here are the specifics:
I first prepare a learner’s brain to accept something new without resistance. I enable their system to expand congruently, to
- translate the incoming ideas accurately;
- accept new content in a way that matches their personal norms/beliefs so it can enter without resistance;
- open a space to accept the new;
- develop new neural pathways and circuits to provide new actions/choices.
To set up a learning environment, I don’t use desks, computers, power points, pads or pens in my classrooms. No notetaking until midday Day 2. Chairs are in a semicircle so folks can watch/see each other to notice shifts, or ‘tells’ in their body language. Also, because my first focus is to help learners look into their own brains and work with their unconscious (i.e. no need of information per se until then, so lectures occur after midday Day 2), there is no need for notes as any incoming content from me will be misunderstood. I also announce that I seek their confusion: if they’re not confused they’re using existing knowledge and not learning. This manages their expectations so they are delighted to be confused.
My job on Day 1 is to help learner’s brains notice how their mental models, rules and beliefs, have created the choices, limitations, and boundaries that caused their current neural circuitry that results in their beliefs and actions. During this process the learner gets to determine if, where, what, and why they would want to expand current boundaries and bring in something new.
My programs begin with learners doing pattern-initiating, pattern-recognition activities without a desired outcome, causing them to behave with their habituated behavior choices. I then give them forms to fill out that employ my Facilitative Questions to track how, and from what beliefs and assumptions, they make their choices. For example:
How did you decide to listen for X? How did you know when/if your beliefs were in the way of employing a more appropriate behavior? Has there ever been a time you employed Y behavior instead? If so, what was different? How would you know if or when Y were a better choice? etc.
I pose a series of these, in a specific sequence in the specific order for the brain to unravel how it made the choices it made and notice if/where there is an incongruence.
Once learners begin to notice incongruences, they begin to question their behavioral choices (Note: systems don’t like incongruences as it puts them out of balance [homeostasis]. Once this is noticed, the system must fix it so they remain congruent [Systems Congruence] – hence, they’re ready and willing to learn/change.).
In a classroom, I USE the models I’m teaching so students begin to become comfortable with the new, understand it viscerally, and I go around their natural neural circuitry that translates what I’m saying subjectively. Students begin to automatically incorporate the new choices into their actions where they notice incongruences. As they ‘fail’ they are learning how to ‘succeed’. When I finally give them a lecture (midday, Day 2) they know exactly where to put it within their system as their brain is ready for it.
I use exercises that show them their patterns to help them
- assess WHAT has been involved with them making the choices they’ve made,
- notice IF there are incongruences,
- determine IF they have comfort (re their beliefs) to make a change,
- know WHERE and HOW the new info would fit with that’s already there,
- notice IF/WHERE there is an incongruence between the existing and the new,
- and IF there is buy-in for something new,
- create a space and choose the parameters to take in new/different content.
When they decide they’re ready and willing to change, and I’ve helped them find the place inside that agrees to ‘accept’ or ‘change’, THAT is the time they seek out new data to help round out their new circuit and I give a lecture. It’s here they ask questions to gather more data (and will accept the new data as per existing beliefs) to put into the exact place they’ve just now opened; also they might just accept what I say and use whatever bits will be accepted with greater acceptance and adoption than would have occurred originally.
Net net, the original lectures, presentation materials and exercises trainers use are just fine, but only as the second phase of a learner’s learning. My question is: do you want to train? Or facilitate learning? They’re two different things.
And of course should you want to explore new training modalities or have me develop training for you, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.