How Leaders Create a Learning Environment
don’t remember things just because you told them it was important to remember.
more they passively listen to you, the less likely they will remember. Worse,
they are less likely to do anything creative with what you tell them.
understand how to create an active learning environment, you need to know how
the brain remembers and learns.
First, there is short-term memory found in the cortical,
logical brain that acts like a small container. It is limited in capacity,
meaning people can only remember a certain number of items told to them at any
given moment. This container is also full of brain chatter around current
projects, family matters and personal issues.
If you want someone to remember something for more than a few hours, or even
minutes, then these bits of information must be transferred to one of the two
other major memory centers, primal memory and long-term memory. This
transference is called “learning.”
Two ways of learning
For people to remember anything, an emotion must be attached to the incoming
stimuli. Otherwise, the brain doesn’t deem the data worthy of being remembered.
However, different emotions cause data to “land” in different memory centers,
which also affects how we use this information later when it is recalled.
If people are scared into learning, such as by getting
ultimatums, by being forced to compete with colleagues or family members, by
threatening their security or predictability about work or life, by demeaning
their value, or by pushing them into situations that feel unfair or hopeless,
then they learn what they need to survive in the moment. However, if they are
overcome by hopelessness, rebellion, or resignation, they may learn nothing at
Even if they do remember what they are told, when they face similar
situations in the future, they have only learned to act in one way. When people learn by fear, they transfer
the information to the memory center in the primal
brain, found in the brain stem. This memory is primed to react when a
threat appears. So anytime they face a similar situation, they react in the
same way. They behave the way they learned in order to survive this situation.
There is no analysis. There is no considering possibilities. It is very hard to
rewire and change this behavior. This is one of the reasons why it is so hard
to change behavior even when we know it doesn’t serve our best interests.
However, if you want people to be able to act thoughtfully, creatively or
strategically, then you should refrain from threats and instead, use emotions
that trigger neurotransmitters instead. When people experience laughter,
compassion, gratitude, pride, dignity, joy, love, social connection,
achievement, contribution, insight and personal breakthroughs, the
memories are not only stored in long-term memory which is
associative instead of reactive (meaning that when information is recalled it
is pliable and changeable by new information), they create more synaptic
connections and richer neural networks, which gives the brain greater
flexibility to access many pathways at once, leading to more creative thought
Tips for Leading in a Learning Environment
Tip #1: Teach with inspiring and humorous stories,
relevant cartoons, identifiable and pleasurable metaphors, and compelling
examples. Information delivered with pleasurable and heartfelt
emotions are quickly transferred into long-term memory. The facts may be lost,
but the stories and the message will live on.
Tip #2: Seek to serve and develop people. People
don’t forget those who have helped them. Their brains love to remember things
and events that leave them feeling cared about.
Tip #3: Use discovery. Engage people in dialogue.
Whenever possible, coach instead of teach. People don’t resist change;
they resist being changed. If they sense that someone is trying to force them to
learn something, they naturally resist. If the brain senses judgment along with
the lesson (the teacher or leader must think I’m stupid, inadequate, or slow),
then they will act defensively or shut down. Instead, be curious and ask
questions as if you are learning too. This helps people learn for themselves.
The pleasure that goes along with discovery triggers a wave of brain activity.
Tip #4: Encourage trials and experiments. Praise effort
as well as results. If people don’t put what they learn into action
right away, then the information falls into the back of the brain’s filing
cabinet where it is often lost. People learn by practice and they need praise
to go the distance. Adults need approval and acknowledgment as much as children
want people to be more innovative and resourceful, make sure that you create a
pleasurable, participative and safe environment for learning. The happier the
brain, the smarter the person.
For more information on how the brain
remembers and influences creativity, check out www.outsmartyourbrain.com.
About the Author
Doug Harward is the founder and CEO of Training Industry, Inc. He is internationally recognized as one of the leading strategists for training and outsourcing business models. He is respected as one of the industry's leading authorities on competitive analysis for training services and works with international companies and new business start-ups in building training organizations.
Harward previously served as the Director of Global Learning for Nortel Networks where he led the industry's largest global training outsourcing engagement with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He received the Chairman's Global Award for Community Service for his work in developing integrated learning organization strategies within higher education, public schools and business. He has worked in the training industry for more than 25 years.
Harward received a MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and a BSBA in Marketing from Appalachian State University.
Harward is co-author of the book “What Makes A Great Training Organization.”