Science & Learning: Beware simple solutions that profess to work for all


Your business has a strategy and you have a strategy. You know that if you can align them it could transform your organisation.

When I talk about underpinning learning with science to help the response is generally something along the lines of “great, but we need to deliver this in the next month”. People are under pressure to deliver solutions at record speed. Unfortunately there’s much that doesn’t work and more and more at stake.

If I asked you to list some current L&D practices I’m sure you’d have no problem coming up with a few. But what would you have said five years ago, or ten? Would they have been the same, based on the same scientific thinking? There is a huge amount of ‘science’ out there. Discerning what is fad or fact and keeping up to date with which theories have been debunked is incredibly difficult.

The hard truth is that there isn’t one simple, proven way to deliver learning that gets people to change their habits. What does exist is a growing body of research showing approaches that can work, if delivered in specific ways under certain circumstances.

There are a number of things we know thanks to this growing research. Here are a few:

People are exponentially less likely to make a change that sticks unless they are intrinsically motivated to change. They need the carrot, not the stick.

Even with intrinsic motivation, behaviour change is very hard and unlikely to be quick. People need guidance, support and structure in order for change to be achievable.

The brain can only process a limited amount of information at one time before becoming overloaded.

Behaviour and knowledge isn’t fixed. The brain is malleable and learning really is lifelong.

By understanding some of what research is telling us we can be better equipped to know how to deliver learning that will help people want to make a change.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be back to explore these, and other ideas, in more depth. In the meantime why not have a think about some of the approaches you take currently and ask why you do things that way?

Caroline Marsh