The amazing brain – how you can use it to help learning

The Amazing Brain

The more I understand about the brain the more I realise I don’t know. It is an amazing organ. Understanding a little about the brain, though, can help you tremendously as a trainer. I have been reading a book called “Your brain at work” by David Rock.

This book has allowed me to “join the dots” with some of the principles of accelerated learning, especially the importance of repetition in moving learning into long-term memory.  For instance, when you are learning something new, this happens in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is very energy hungry and can only store a very limited amount of information. As soon as this is overloaded information starts to leak out. So we need to learn how to not overload it.

The basal ganglia is that part of the brain that deals with routine tasks, things that are familiar. If you are learning something for the first time, trying to find a pattern or something which is familiar, will help to transfer the information into long-term memory.

As an example, in IT training, begin by helping the participants learn some quick tricks, for example some shortcut keys. You can achieve this, with some repetition and allowing the participants to use these short cut keys in some practical exercises. Once they have learnt something that becomes almost automatic, it moves into the basal ganglia. This is why some people are able to knit almost automatically without much effort. Moving stuff into the basal ganglia, releases the prefrontal cortex to begin again with that higher thinking that new concepts and theories will need.

Engaging the motor cortex or the visual cortex while learning new things, can also lighten the load on the prefrontal cortex. This is why having engaging visuals can aid learning. Writing notes, engages the motor cortex, and will help ease the load on the prefrontal cortex. Thus having a workbook, where participants occasionally write down what they have learnt, will help cement the learning.

Those of you who haven’t got time to read David Rock’s book, there is a video clip below, which you can watch.

Paul McLean’s triune brain theory helped me to realise how important emotions are when it comes to learning. Scare your participants and they will not do any learning. Engage them by telling stories and something magical happens.

Stories seem to tap into something deep within our psyches.I love watching people’s faces when I tell them stories. I love to see the eye contact and how deeply they engage with the story. Even when the stories are not true, they seem to work. I made up a story to help people learn about the factors in an organisation, which hinder learning. The main characters were called Quasimodo and Esmeralda. As soon as I mentioned these two characters, all of the participants began to smile. A potentially dry subject can be brought to life by using humour and stories. Stories however can do an awful lot more, listen to what Margaret Parkin a famous business storyteller says about storytelling: her website is

Here is a great article about how storytelling can help and hinder organisations:

Harvard article on Storytelling

I have lots to learn about the brain and what I am really interested in is the research, which will help me to improve the learning experiences for my participants. I also want to maximise retention of information. This benefits the learners and the organisation. I would love to hear from anyone at all,who can add to or comment on this blog, to help me in this quest.


4 thoughts on “The amazing brain – how you can use it to help learning

  1. Tre Azzam is speaking at TEDxBristol right now about using brain wave monitoring technology. Imagine using this in the classroom or for home eLearning to slow or adapt the style and pace of learning! That is where I see the future going where a device the size of an MP3 can take some rudimentary measurements of the kind of brain waves (Alpha, Beta, Theta, etc) that your brain state is using at any given time.
    Tre Azzam’s profile at TEDxBristol:

  2. Would be great to access the recording – how long is it before it gets onto YouTube?

  3. Excellent article Krystyna, I share your fascination about the brain but it’s not always easy to see how to apply the theory in practice so it’s good to get some useful tips. I’ll certainly have a look at the book
    ( there’s a nice gap in my ‘books about the brain’ shelf ).

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