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6 Brain-Science Principles in Learning that Every Trainer Must Know

It’s not brain surgery. These 6 brain-science principles for learning, developed by Sharon Bowman, should be used by every trainer and teacher, every day. Period. What’s really cool is that the dozens of active learning techniques explained here can be applied to live or virtual training. You may also notice that many of the activities fall into several of the “trump” categories.

6 Brain-Science Trumps by Sharon Bowman

1. Movement trumps Sitting

Keep the blood flowing to the brain. Experts suggest we should take breaks every 20 minutes. During online meetings and webinars, consider every 10 minutes! You can incorporate more movement into learning events and meetings by asking participants to:

  • STAND & SHARE – stand up to share a thought, learning, point, or contribution.
  • STRETCH – try a cross-body stretch from a sitting or standing position.
  • WALKABOUT – move about to share ideas, post a reminder note on a mirror or at your workstation, or locate a partner.
  • WRITE – DRAW – DOODLEFIDGET – really any movement is better than sitting still. I still hear Mr.s Driscoll, my first-grade teacher, asking us all to sit still. If only she understood then what we know now.

Sometimes we need a little encouragement to get off our bums (for those who are able), but the minimal effort is worth it.

2. Talking trumps Listening

Bowman asserts that the one doing the most talking generally does the most learning. Make that be the students. The technique is effective for several reasons. When people speak their thoughts, they begin to own them.  Then, as the words become their own, they start to believe and remember them. Talking exercises include:

  • REPEAT AFTER ME – This may sound silly, but it works. Try saying the 6 trumps aloud.
  • TRADING PLACES (a.k.a. TEACHBACKS) – have individual students or groups study a topic on their own, then teach it to the others.
  • BALL TOSS – Catch a ball (real or virtual) and express a learning point, “ah-ha” moment, or detail you hope to remember.
  • CHAT – discuss answers and observations with colleagues at your table or in an online breakout room

3. Images Trump Words

Vision is humans’ primary sense and we think in images first. To make training memorable, build in activities that tie the content to visual images. For instance:

  • DRAW IT – request that the group draw an icon to represent the top 3 concepts. It makes it no less powerful if you draw the icon first and ask them to replicate it. If you want to remember the 6 brain-science trumps that every trainer should know, try drawing each of the icons in the infographic.
  • METAPHOR MAGIC – display images of photos, using either an online selection of photos or a card deck, and have participants select an image that relates to their thoughts or observations about the topic you just taught. Have them share that explanation with a small group or partner. You could alternatively have them select an object in the room to use as their metaphor.
  • METAPHOR MEMENTOS – if you use fidget toys, squeeze balls, or bendable or moldable materials, have learners create a shape or object that will remind them of important learning points. Be sure they take it with them. If you’re doing online learning, consider including a memento in a pre-session care package.

4. Writing trumps Reading

Writing has the combined benefits of being visual and requiring movement. We know that people love their devices — phones, tablets, computers — but welcome them to fall in love again with a favorite pen, marker, or notebook. Guide the group to take notes on specific topics that are important to recall. Consider these activities:

  • NOTE TAKING – tell them to jot notes in a notebook or even in a graphic organizer, full of pictures and color. If a point is particularly important, say “write this down” and then pause to give them time to write.
  • SQUEEZE TOYS – many foam squeeze toys will accept pen and permanent marker writing. Ask learners to draw or write on their squeeze ball, so that they’ll remember these points when they see it on their desk or pick it up to use it.
  • NOTE COLORING – have learners review their notes and append them with colorful underlines; circle key points; draw lines to connect related topics; star or highlight “next steps.”

5. Shorter trumps Longer

Some say we can stay focused for the number of minutes that match our age.  30 years old . . . 30 minutes. Others say this is hogwash and that EVERYONE benefits from frequent breaks. I expect it’s due to lots of reasons. Our primitive brains evolved to react to interruptions and changes. Moreover, with today’s barrage of beeping phones and commercial messaging, we’re not accustomed to focusing for long periods of time. An added benefit of sticking with shorter learning segments is that studies show people tend to remember beginnings and endings more than middles. Consequently, you’re likely to retain more information from three 10-minute lectures than one 30-minute presentation. To break up longer presentations, try interspersing some of these activities:

  • QUICK PASS – moving quickly from person to person, have each one restate a concept they just heard
  • PAIR-SHARE – take 2 minutes for participants to turn to each other and articulate a learning concept they hope to remember
  • STRETCH & WRITE – invite the group to stand up (if they’re able), ask one person to lead the group in a quick stretch (arms, legs, perhaps a yoga pose), then ask them to jot a note or circle a concept in their notes that is particularly relevant.

6. Different trumps Same

Habituation is the idea that we stop noticing and paying attention to anything that’s not new. When you first put up a new picture or hang new curtains in your house, you can’t stop looking at and noticing them. But, after time, they stop capturing your focus. Psychologists define it as the “diminishing response to a frequently repeated stimulus.” As trainers embrace the “shorter trumps longer” teaching principle, they can’t simply default to using the same activities every time. Of course, it would be easier that way, but also less effective. You can easily change each of these quick activities:

  • BRAIN BREAKS – take a complete mental break from the material with a stretch, breathing exercise, chat prompt (i.e. are you a vanilla or chocolate person), or puzzler. TrainersEXCHANGE has oodles of prompts at the ready.
  • STAND-GROUP-SHARE-WALK – change the numbers of people in the groups, change the topic to discuss, or how they move about the room. Have individuals turn in circles, walk clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room, move to each corner of the room, go outside, etc.

6 Brain-Science Principles for Learning

The ways to embrace the 6 brain-science principles for learning are truly endless. I’ve shared a bunch here, but once you get the hang of it, I’m sure you’ll be creating your own clever exercises, graphic note pages, and more.

1 thought on “6 Brain-Science Principles in Learning that Every Trainer Must Know”

  1. Janet Abbensetts says:

    I love the concepts shared to engage participant’s and to know that they are staying focus while on line. great reminder of participants focus time

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