5 Lessons from Cognitive Science for Corporate Learning

Design matters. That’s true for many things, corporate learning being one of them. However, the research foundations of learning design can sometimes seem ambiguous. There’s also a lot of invalid information and “myths” (e.g. “learning styles”) floating around. While there’s a lot of talk about neuroscience, that’s still too new of a field for us to comprehend. Therefore, it might be useful to remind ourselves of the things we already do know. Thus, here are 5 lessons from cognitive science for corporate learning design.

1. Make connections with the learners’ prior experience and knowledge

First of all, it’s important that we enable the brain to form the new connections required for learning. Thus, we should guide the learners into putting the newly learnt into context with what they already know. But it’s also possible to flip that around. With a proper use of learning analytics, we can understand that knowledge and those experiences beforehand, and then design the learning accordingly. These types of personalised learning experiences come naturally with a higher contextual value and effect.

2. Facilitate the whole cycle of learning

The second lesson from cognitive science for corporate learning is that we should always facilitate the full cycle of learning: absorbing information, active testing, reflection and creation. Hence, learning must not be just passive slide decks and multiple choice questions. Rather, we should be encouraging and inviting reflection at all stages. We’d also probably be better off ditching some of the mundane multiple choice trivia questions for something a bit more intellectually stimulating. Finally, we should ensure there are opportunities to ‘create’ and put the newly learnt into practice. With the modern type of learning in the workflow, that already happens more naturally, but not all learning can take place like that.

3. Put your attention on attention

In cognitive science, attention as a cognitive process acts as a prerequisite for everything else. Without attention there can be no perception, learning etc. Thus, it’s important that we gain and hold our learners’ attention, and also help to refocus it where necessary. This is what the discussion about learning engagement is all about. To combat the loss of attention, you should design learning that is interactive and interesting. To achieve that, you could use mediums like animations, interactive videos or simulations and take advantage of methods like storytelling. You should also make sure your learning materials direct the learner adequately on where to focus.

4. Enable social engagement and interaction

However, that one type of engagement is probably not enough. Rather, you should also find ways to incorporate social engagement in your learning design. Discussions, sharing, mimicking and shared experiences are all integral components of the learning process. In a classroom setting, enabling these means shifting the focus from the trainer to the learners. In a digital environment, it means shifting focus from delivered content to co-created information. Overall, there are a lot of tools out there to facilitate this type of interactivity and social presence in learning. Look into it!

5. Engage a maximum number of senses – start with visual

While the notion of learning styles has largely been proven false, there are some things that seem to hold true when it comes to learning design. Research in cognitive science and aligned fields indicates that multi-sensory learning improves efficacy. The more senses you can activate, the better the learning results – roughly speaking. Furthermore, it seems that the visual element is of great significance. Thus, you should look into many more mediums than just conventional classroom instruction or those “eLearning slide decks”. You can start small and gradually make your learning experiences more visual and then go on as far as activating touch and motion with e.g. augmented reality.

Overall, we should pay more attention to cognitive science in corporate learning. By understanding what makes learning work, we already get so much closer to designing great learning experiences. And remember, if you think you might need help in any of this, we’re here for you. Just drop us a note.

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