Neurons are the basis of all learning. It is the electrical firings and chemical messages (neurotransmitters) that run between neurons, the neural pathways, which produce our thoughts, feelings and interactions with our world.
Hebb's rule: The neurons that fire together wire together
Named after pioneering Canadian neurologist, Donald O. Hebb – one of the founding fathers of neuroscience, Hebb’s rule states that when two neurons fire together regularly or fire once with significant intensity, their connection is strengthened and they are more likely to fire together in future to the detriment of connections with other neurons.
This action forms the basis of learning.
We learn through repetition and recognition. Repetition creates well developed brain patterns (connections between neurons). Learning to drive a car is often used as a way of explaining learning in terms of moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. That transition from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence is about the building of new neural pathways and the more you practice the easier driving a car becomes until you don't have to think about it when you're doing it.
Some quick facts about neurons
How many neurons make a human brain? Billions fewer than we thought
Turns out we still don't really know. Interesting that the generally accepted number is 100 billion however this article refutes that. And in the video below, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young states we have 200 billion. I think the most important point for learning and development practitioners, is just to appreciate the enormity and complexity of the neurone numbers involved.
How We Learn – Synapses and Neural Pathways
The best explanation I have found about the physicality of how the brain learns comes from Lord Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London:
When we learn, we are rewiring our brains: creating new neural pathways, reinforcing existing pathways and pruning others.
The brains ability to change in response to our experiences, its ability to learn.
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young at TEDxToronto:
How do you want your learners to feel?
Engaged? Enthusiastic? Energised? Confident? Willing to have a go?
When our learners come to our learning and development programs we want them to learn.
This sounds like I’m stating the obvious and I have seen many trainers and facilitators focus on the content too much and assume that the learners are in the right emotional state for learning, they’re ready to go. So they launch head first in to the content via a fairly standard opening eg these are the objectives, this is the agenda, here are the ground rules…now lets get started.
But creating a true learning environment is not as simple as that. People are emotional beings. They lead busy lives and are usually juggling multiple competing priorities.
We want to get to: the learner’s executive brain, their prefrontal cortex
Our emotional brain, the limbic system.
Our emotional brain, the limbic system, is an ancient part of the human brain.
It supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and olfaction.
Some basics about the Limbic system:
To give learning a chance you need to make sure your learners feel safe.
They need to feel that they can admit to what they don’t know, share what they do know (be valued), be able to have their thinking challenged, feel uncomfortable some of the time (without wanting to run away) and know that they can take the risks they need to be able to learn.
Our Lizard Brain
This is the oldest part of the human brain, our most primal brain.
Controls the body’s vital functions eg heart rate, breathing, body temperatuve and balance.
It includes the main structures found in a reptiles brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum.
Our lizard brain protects us from threat and seeks reward - it helps us to decide what is significant at any point in time.
Take care of your learners lizard brain.
On Tuesday 12 August I had the privilege of attending the pre-Conference workshop:
P3: SPACE: Five Steps for OD Workshop integrating the best of AI, Future Search, the World Café and OST with Kazu Katori and Max Watanabe
In this rapid changing and complicated business environment, traditional leadership and management practices no longer work effectively. New approaches to create vital and agile organization are needed. The answer to this challenge is Five Steps for OD Workshop to embrace the best of people and organizations, which is founded on a group of workshop metrics called the Whole Systems Approach including Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, The World Cafe, and Open Space Technology. The five steps are:
The workshop was informative, engaging and gave me a lot to think about how I could use this approach in my work. It was evident Katori San and Watanabe San have a deep understanding of each discipline that makes up SPACE and that this approach they have developed is grounded in their significant knowledge and experience.
My favourite quote of the day:
‘Groups and organisations are not machines, they are living creatures’.
Here are my notes:
The common approach to OD: change management, deficit-based analytical organisational development approach, deficit-based human relationships building.
Often bring consultants in who come with pre-determined solution
Often a painful process for the people – it becomes a matter of endurance. The thinking being that given enough time if people endure, change will occur. But for how long? How effectively?
OD can change whole organisations, a whole system approach works better for changing cultures
VUCA: we live in an era of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity
No single person knows the right answer. It’s important for all the members of the system to share the dream
SPACE helps people suspend ordinary thinking and shift mental models
Set the context
How would you describe your current work environment?
Prepare for shift
Timeline activity – Global, Local, Personal. What stories did we find? What implications for the current situation of our organisational/team?
Story telling: telling our story to our table group about the organisations or teams we are working with. The rest of the group were tasked as listeners and took notes on post it notes (trying to find causes of success, one word per note) to give feedback to the storyteller– changing mental model from deficits to focussing on strengths. For me this was a very humbling experience
Aspiring for change
We did a team drawing to express our ideal future together
A critical part, without it nothing will happen
Make a list of actions for what you can do to make this happen
Decide as a team three main actions you will do
Where I think SPACE really shines is that it recognises that to take a group or organisation from the issue/problem/change they want to address to being able to enact that change needs different approaches at different stages of the journey.
In creating SPACE, Katori San and Watanabe San have created a whole systems approach, a framework, that enables facilitators to knowingly use the most appropriate facilitation technique for the stage that the group is at so they can get the best results for the organisation and it’s people.
In August 2014 I had the privilege of co-facilitating a concurrent workshop at the 17th IAF Asia Conference Singapore, http://iafasiaconference.iaf.sg, in collaboration with Belinda Lowing from Effective Conversations.
Our topic: Facilitating self while facilitating change – the challenges of applying process facilitation in an organisational learning & development context, http://iafasiaconference.iaf.sg/facilitating-self-while-facilitating-change-the-challenges-of-applying-process-facilitation-in-an-organisational-learning-and-development-context/
We saw this as a great opportunity to share and explore two key issues we’ve been grappling with as process and learning facilitators:
So what is facilitation?
Facilitation is any activity that makes tasks for others easy, that helps people do their best thinking and their best work.
'A facilitator is someone who uses knowledge of group processes to formulate and deliver the needed structure for meeting interactions to be effective. The facilitator focuses on effective processes (meeting dynamics) allowing the participants to focus on the content or the substance of their work together'. http://www.iaf-world.org/Libraries/Facilitation_Articles/ASQ-IAF_Facilitation_Primer.sflb.ashx
Facilitation and learning
Each time we facilitate an experience we are also facilitating learning, whether learning is the primary purpose or not.
Transformative Learning Theory
First expressed by Jack Mezirow from Columbia University, transformative learning theory explains learning as ‘making sense of our experiences’.
Transformative Learning offers the opportunity for deep learning – looking at what it takes to move from knowing what you know without question, to moving to looking at the assumptions about what you know
Transformation is about coming out different to when you went in.
Transformative learning is focussed on the kind of learning where you change your view of the world, where you end up seeing things differently. And by changing your worldview you’ve changed how you make sense of your experiences, how you make meaning about the world you inhabit. This can happen as the result of a life-changing event, a disorienting dilemma. It can also happen as the result of a series of smaller transformations over time leading to be major shift in thinking. Transformative learning can be as a result of the work that facilitators do helping groups to do their best thinking and work.
Managing self while managing change
The role of the facilitator can be a dedicated one as described earlier. However often times in organisations people take on a facilitative role as needed e.g. run a meeting, do business planning, collaborate on a strategic approach, have 1:1 meetings with staff or work with a team to solve a problem. This means that managers, team leaders, staff, colleagues are, at times, stepping into the role of a facilitator.
Facilitators can wear many hats:
"The intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)
Facilitators must be ever mindful of the responsibility and power that comes with their role and the impact of themselves on the work that the group is doing.
Here is the SlideShow we prepared for the conference:
Find out what Jane and Belinda do
I chose this workshop because I am a musician so I was fascinated to learn more about this facilitation technique, which I’d never heard of.
We had great fun. Kaoru started by asking the group to stand in a large circle, she then handed each of us some kind of small percussive toy and asked us to pass the toys around the circle in time with the rhythm she was playing. Lots of laughter as Kaorus’ rhythms got faster and we tried to keep up = toys started flying everywhere.
The next activity, we sat in a circle and Kaoru placed a pile of ‘boomwhackers’ on the floor asking each person in the group to choose one. She then divided the group in half and gave each half of the group their own rhythm to play – now we’re jamming! J How good is that?
People were listening and observing (and getting a bit adventurous with their rhythms!) – and in the process we are creating connections without any words needed (=the power of music), building a shared understanding of the group.
To finish the workshop, Kaoru debriefed the group using a short paper point, encouraging us to reflect and share our learnings/thoughts.
Here are the notes I took:
This was very much an activity based workshop, so not many notes …didn’t even have time to take any photo.
So here is a photo of the Day 1 Lunch (food is always important) J