What the New Science of the Mind and Brain Teaches Us About Learning

There is a growing body of mind and brain research available for the curious and innovative training professional. In this blog, Bruce offers some brief overviews of a few books that offer lessons from neuroscience that can be applied to the workplace.

The intersection where the lessons of cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and learning and development meet is influencing the way training professionals approach training design, development, and delivery.

These lessons include:

  • The limits of attention and how this affects the acquisition of information
  • How exercise and sleep influence learning
  • The myth of multitasking or how multitasking results in decreased learning and performance
  • How meditation changes the brain and how it can be used to affect workplace performance

Recently, my local ASTD (now Association for Talent Development or ATD Chapter) hosted Dr. Cameron Carter, MD, UC Davis professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience. Dr. Carter spoke on the subject of the relation of neuroscience to learning. On the occasion of his talk, I put together the following booklist for those trainer/developers in attendance. The booklist was meant to assist those who wanted to dive further into some of these brain, mind, training, workforce connections. I hope you find the list helpful. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be exploring the topics of mindfulness, attentiveness, engagement, and other topics from positive psychology and neuroscience in upcoming blogs. I hope you will come back and visit some of those blogs.

Book List

Using Brain Science to Make Training Stick, Sharon L. Bowman, 2010. This is a very approachable book and it provides a suitable starting place for anyone interested in exploring the lessons of brain science as they relate to training. Bowman pulls from many secondary sources, as she makes the connections between neuroscience and psychology, for the trainer who wishes to boost engagement, learning, and the resulting application of training.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina, First published in2009 and revised in 2014. This is a great introduction to the lessons from brain science and it is delivered in a format that a trainer could easily use in classroom or the design and development of curriculum. The 12 rules provide a solid introduction to many of the applicable lessons from neuroscience to the workplace. Some of the rules include: Rule #4 (Attention), We don’t pay attention to boring things; Rule #5 (Short-Term Memory), Repeat to remember; or Rule #8 (Stress), Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen, first published in 1998 and revised in 2005. Though Eric Jensen Jensen writes for a traditional education audience (primary or secondary school teachers), his book has many lessons for training and development professionals. Jensen explores topics such as motivation, critical thinking skills, memory, and recall. He offers insights on how to tap into the brain’s natural reward system and how social interaction affects the brain. His message to educators is, “You have far more influence on students’ brains than you realize and it behooves you to learn as much as you can from the findings that science is providing.”

Mind, Brain, and Education Science: A Comprehensive Guide to the New Brain-Based Teaching, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa PhD, 2010. This is another book designed primarily for traditional educators. Dr. Tokuhama seeks to clearly explain “mind, brain, and education science” (MBE Science), or the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and education. She focuses on how MBE can be understood and used most effectively by educators. The book explores some of the myths vs the realities of MBE and the lessons for the classroom regarding emotions, motivation, attention, and memory.

Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, Susan L. Smalley PhD and Diana Winston, 2010. Oneof Sacramento ASTD’s members is on record (from 10 years ago) as having said that mindfulness will be the next workforce competency. It seems to be true as mindfulness is attracting the attention of cognitive neuroscientists, training professionals, and those who want to explore new tools for coping and thriving in the workplace. Dr. Smalley is the Founding Director of UCLA’s MARC Center (Mindful Awareness Research Center) and presents a scientific explanation for how mindfulness positively and powerfully affects the brain and the body. Her coauthorprovides practical guidance to develop and practice mindfulness in the workplace, as well as the rest of one’s life.

Search Inside Yourself: the Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), Chade-Meng Tan (Google engineer and employee # 107), 2012. This is not a book on neuroscience, but the story of how one company, Google, has used the lessons from neuroscience, psychology, and education to build a groundbreaking new training program they call “Search Inside Yourself”. The training program, which has become Google’s most popular campus training program over the past five years, is based on a powerful combination of mindfulness and emotional intelligence training. The program is designed to target attention, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and encourage the creation of useful mental habits. If a company with Google’s resources and insistence on empirical evidence is doing training like this, maybe it is time you consider it as well.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman, 2014. Lastly, I couldn’t compile a list of books about the brain, psychology, and their connection to the workplace without including a book by Daniel Goleman. Goleman, who most famously writes and speaks about emotional intelligence, says attention is a “little-noticed and underrated mental asset, sorely tested among modern distractions but essential to success in work, play, relationships, and self-awareness.” He draws on neuroscience, case studies, and personal experience to explain focus, which includes concentration, selective attention, self-awareness, and empathy.

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Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner, MBA, has been a trainer, program developer, business owner, training manager, and active participant and consultant in the association industry during his professional career.

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