With computers being the way of the world, the odds are pretty high that a lot of what you try to shove into your brain will come at you through a screen. To make sure more of the information really sticks and has real value for you, companies are looking at neuroscience to see how you can learn and train yourself and others most effectively.

John Baker is the CEO of education company D2L, which helps businesses train workers online. The company also is active in K-12 classrooms and supports work-from-home options. Baker asserts that understanding how the brain stores and retrieves information is key to designing effective learning experiences and leveraging learning technologies. He also sees clear incentive for business leaders to embrace the newer, brain-based models.

"With a tight labor market creating a fierce competition for talent, the impetus for effective, dynamic learning has never been clearer. Online learning backed by brain science is a way to deliver this at scale. Brain science has a powerful influence on workplace learning, empowering learning leaders to create more engaging experiences with better outcomes--for employees and the business."

Neuroscience strategies that actually are working 

But what should you look for in learning options so you can become your best self or build a better team? Baker points to a handful of methodologies.

Mind wandering

Scientists have figured out that your noodle will wander away from what you're doing after about 10 minutes. That's actually great for creativity, because it allows your brain to shift away from executive function and connect more dots between abstract ideas and information. And the more connections you build, the more likely it is that you'll remember the data. Research from Harvard proves that your brain is perfectly capable of judging when to reorient to an important task, and that mind wandering doesn't translate to worse performance on whatever it is you're doing.

Seek out or design short chunks of content. Vary the content (e.g., switch between audio-video feedback and reading) so that you can come and go at your leisure.

Peer learning 

Peer learning is simply where you have a partner through the learning process. The approach makes it easier to learn because the social interaction can make you feel content, excited, or as though you're in a positive state of well-being.  It activates the brain's reward system to produce more dopamine, which makes you want to keep the interaction going and feel more anticipation about learning with others again later.

Instead of flying solo all the time, find tools that permit and encourage you to work with someone else as you learn (e.g., video chat). Make sure the tools make the roles and responsibilities for everyone clear, support individual accountability and enable balanced, transparent communication.

Situated learning

Like peer learning, situated learning emphasizes that you can learn as you interact with other people. But it also stresses that learning is contextural--that is, you learn by being an active participant in a specific setting, such as when you explore on a field trip or a musician attends an orchestra rehearsal.

Look for and give examples related to learners' personal experiences. The brain will use those previous experiences to try to make sense of and apply any new information.

Generative learning

The brain always tries to make connections between different pieces of information. But generative theory says you're not just a passive recipient of information. You can be an active participant and guide the associations in the brain along. You can do this and construct meaning by making something new--a sentence, a new physical model, etc.--that purposely pairs the new information and information you already know.

Reflect and share information in ways that are creative and allow you to produce. For example, make and post audio-video reflections, or take short- or long-form quizzes.


Neuroscience is also building on other methodologies, including retrieval, spaced and interleaved learning. And Baker says that, as we discover even more about the brain, the tools we use to learn have to adapt to address the increasing demand for durable skills like emotional intelligence, teamwork and leaderhip. The tools also have to accommodate the need for greater agility in adapting hard skills.

"Rather than teaching our brains to simply remember and retrieve information--which, frankly is what we have technology for, in many cases, we'll be training learners how to interact more effectively with our fellow humans and develop creative solutions to problems. We can't be certain this will create a new field of neuroscience study, but it almost certainly means we will be using the learning tools we have available now differently."