Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mind games

Terrific interview with cognitive developmental neuroscientist Adele Diamond from Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Diamond has found that full-body involvement and dramatic play facilitate learning (something we're committed to at Workplace Productions). Surprisingly, some now-rejected traditional strategies such as memorization also help. Diamond's research focuses on children, but I think some of these ideas relate to adult learning as well. What's your take?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good words

You don't teach someone to the limit of their ability; you teach them to the limit of your ability. - Aubrey C. Daniels

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Say what you think, think what you say

Newsweek's Sharon Begley, who can always be relied on for thought-provoking science reporting, has a great piece in the current issue. "What's in a Word?" describes new experiments by Stanford psychologist Lera Boroditsky that explore the question of whether the language we speak reflects or creates our perceptions. (By the way, I recommend that you click that link to Boroditsky's site and mouse over her picture. That's my kind of scientist!)

Begley quotes Boroditsky as saying, "'Even a small fluke of grammar' -- the gender of nouns -- 'can have an effect on how people think about things in the world.'" Speakers of gendered languages tend to see objects in terms of traditionally masculine or feminine qualities: bridges as immense and powerful (masculine) or as light, soaring and beautiful (feminine). Note: these adjectives were applied to the same bridge, by French and German speakers, respectively.

I've always felt that language shapes what we notice in the world. Although not fluently multilingual, I had the good fortune to be able to study several vastly different languages at fairly early ages -- early enough so that each of three languages has a profound internal logic to me. And boy, are they different!

Read the article for some fascinating examples of how languages and perceptions differ. And think about what we English speakers take for granted that just might not be so somewhere else in the world.
Graphic by Lera Boroditsky. I hope she doesn't mind!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Learning links

Good stuff on learning from various blogs:

From Cognitive Daily: how using gestures help us learn. The article describes an experiment with children, but I'd suggest it works for adults, too. And here's how an eye exercise can improve scores on a memorization test, at least for the right-handed.

From The Frontal Cortex: what's it like to be a baby, with a wonderful first comment about tight vs. open focus. And more on focus and creativity in a post about neuroenhancing drugs. Comment #2 is especially interesting here.

From Developing Intelligence: what happens to memories when we forget them (kind of technical, but fascinating nevertheless).


Friday, April 3, 2009

Good words

Whenever I ask a question, and the pain comes, I know I have asked a really good question. ...The more pain I train myself to stand, the more I learn.
...you won’t learn anything if you don’t invite the pain. And the more you learn, the gladder you will be to stand the pain.– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No foolin'

One of the enduring paradoxes of the human mind is that it doesn’t know itself very well. The conscious brain is ignorant of its own underpinnings, blind to all that neural activity taking place outside the prefrontal cortex. This is why people have emotions: they are windows into the unconscious, visceral representations of all the information we process but don’t perceive. - Jonah Lehrer

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good words

Insight requires a clean slate - Mark Jung-Beeman, quoted in Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bouncing back

Dr. Tamar Chansky, who commented on yesterday's post, has an excellent article on how to cultivate resilience in a time of anxiety. She offers clarity on the difference between crisis mode and coping mode, and how to move from the first to the second. So quit wringing your hands and check it out!

Good words

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. – Joseph Chilton Pearce

Monday, March 9, 2009

Failure to thrive

I've been reading Jonah Lehrer's excellent new book How We Decide, and this morning I turned up something that startled me but makes utter sense.

People who are praised for innate intelligence end up learning less and performing more poorly than those who are praised for their effort.

Lehrer describes the experiments of Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist who gave hundreds of school children an easy test, told them their scores, and then gave each one sentence of praise. Half were told, "You must be really smart," and the other half were told, "You must have worked really hard."

Then all the children were given a choice to take a hard test or an easy one. Overwhelmingly, the children praised for their effort chose the harder test, while those who had been commended for their intelligence chose the easier one. And on a final test of the same difficulty as the intial one, the "hard workers" improved their scores by an average of 30 percent, while the "smart" kids' results actually dropped by nearly 20 percent.

Dweck wrote that praising children for their intelligence teaches them not to risk making mistakes; Lehrer points out that "it encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is learning from mistakes." The most effective masters of any skill actively look for their mistakes, to train their brains to avoid them next time.

I encourage you to read the book; Lehrer explains the neurological reasons why lots of failure is essential to learning.

How many of our learners (and how many of us) don't reach the levels we could because we have been taught to avoid making errors? How can we set up learning situations to help failure-averse people, whose sense of self-worth may be tied up in making no mistakes, and therefore learning nothing?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Drawing a lesson

A new study shows that people who doodle during boring meetings or classes actually retain more information than those who don't. The theory is that doodling at least keeps your mind in the room, instead of tuning out altogether and daydreaming.

Note: it works in dull settings. So, fellow learning leaders, next time we encounter doodlers, rather than getting snarky about their lack of attention, maybe we need to find ways to engage them more fully. (That's our mission at Workplace.)

Probably not the best thing to point out to the boss, though, during that endless monthly meeting...

Illustration via FlickrCC on a Creative Commons license.
Can't you just imagine the meeting this came out of?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good words

Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction. - Francis Picabia

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Good words

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing. - Gertrude Stein

Distraction, creativity, and -- oh, wait a minute, someone's texting me

Every classroom trainer has faced the scourge of the BlackBerry: the participant whose attention is focused more on her handheld than on the task at hand. With our clients' support, we generally bar the devices from our learning sessions, which are all about engagement and interaction -- what's happening here and now.

The current Newsweek has a terrific article about the cognitive effects of frequent interruptions. Although many BlackBerry fans maintain that their habit doesn't harm their thinking, lots of scientific studies beg to differ. Distraction interferes with memory, problem-solving, and creativity. So-called multitasking actually means not doing several things at once, but switching rapidly among them, to the detriment of all.

So the CrackBerry fan, while telling himself he's being efficient, is actually functioning with one frontal lobe tied behind his back. Which may be why he doesn't even realize he's missing things, like that really useful learning that's going on right in front of him. Hello?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Good words

Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning. - Igor Stravinsky

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Written on your face

I enjoyed last Wednesday's premiere episode of "Lie to Me," a new TV show that incorporates Paul Ekman's work on microexpressions, the fleeting "tells" we all have that reveal our true feelings for a split second before we cover them over with decorum or deceit.

For a recent Workplace Productions program, I taught some of our interactors about microexpressions, and they're using them intentionally in our live case studies and interactive practice. I think microexpressions probably account for the "shimmering" quality - a sense of real thought and emotion, swiftly changing - that the best actors have. For a phenomenal example, see Frank Langella's brilliant work in Frost/Nixon.

Check out "Lie to Me" tonight at 8:00 CST on Fox broadcast, or see episodes online at the link above. Here's more about microexpressions, and here is a nice video about the universality of facial expression of emotion, featuring Paul Ekman.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good words

If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don't particularly like. – Soichiro Honda

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good words

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. - Zora Neale Hurston

Monday, January 19, 2009

Step by step

I'm reading a marvelous little book called My Stroke of Insight. The author, Jill Bolte Taylor, is a Ph.D. neuroanatomist who suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 37. She writes about the experience of stroke from the inside, aided by her knowledge of brain structures and science. And she tells the story of her long, slow recovery after losing much of her left-brain functioning, including speaking, understanding language, reading, and virtually all conceptual thinking.

The book is fascinating in many ways, but one of Jill's insights into learning struck me particularly. It's something we probably know, but probably forget all the time: the most productive way to learn is to focus on the step we're working on now. For example, immediately post-stroke, Jill was trying to learn to sit up - a process that began with rocking. She writes,
While in this stage of rocking, I had to recognize that rocking was the only activity that mattered. Focusing my success on the final goal of sitting up was not wise because it was far beyond my current ability. If I had decided that sitting up was the goal, and then tried and failed repeatedly on every trial, I would have been disappointed with my inability and stopped trying....Essentially, I had to completely inhabit the level of ability that I could achieve before it was time to take the next step.
How often do we rush our learners - or ourselves - through necessary stages, trying for a final goal? And how often do we create a sense of failure and discouragement, instead of celebration for small successes?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Good words

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other. - Chinese proverb

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Raisin' brain

Fascinating article at The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer's blog, on the mental effects of intimidation. Seems that when the brain feels overwhelmed by too much choice or competition, it tends to shut down instead of working harder. (And I thought it was just me!)

I'm looking forward to Lehrer's new book, How We Decide, due out next month. Oh, and if you haven't read Paco Underhill's Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping, give it a look. Whether you love shopping or hate to cross a store's threshhold, I predict you'll find lots of insights that may be useful for training design as well.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's good words

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. – R. Buckminster Fuller