Written by: Bob Lucas
A Sample Brain-Based Learning Event
The following is a synopsis of a training program I created and conducted using brain-based learning theory. The approach I used incorporates some of what researchers have discovered related to how the brain best obtains, processes, stores, and recalls information.
A while back I conducted a two-day train-the-trainer event. Since my key objective in doing such programs is to share techniques and strategies for effectively delivering content, I wanted to model the behavior I planned to encourage during the program. As such, I created a brain-based learning environment where participants would be exposed to a variety of stimuli that would encourage mental and physical engagement for the duration of the workshop.
>>Learn more at the webinar: Energize Your Training: Using Brain Research to Enhance Your Learning Events
To prepare the room for the program I started setting up tables and equipment along with training aids the night before we were scheduled to start. This is my typical approach for intensive programs since I use so many different visual aids, props and other items that waiting until the morning of a session is too stressful. The following is an idea of what the room looked like.
- Room/equipment setup. The room configuration layout that I use for a training program can have a major impact on participant impressions and ultimately on the learning outcomes. Since I planned to have attendees participating in various group activities throughout the session, I opted to have round tables set with all chairs facing the front of the classroom. On the tables, I set up materials for each participant in an organized fashion. Cover sheets on handout packets were printed with four different colors of paper, with the functional purpose of identifying which group each participant had been randomly assigned to join. By randomly moving people around in groups throughout the two-day session, I provided ample time for them to network and share ideas, since socialization is important based on brain research. At the front of the room, I set up my projection screen and projector. The configuration allows me to have any props, notes, or other needed materials with easy reach. It also permitted me to get closer to my participants and removes a perceived psychological and physical barrier that would be created if the table was set horizontally and I were behind it.
- Handouts. Visual/kinesthetic learners love handouts. They are something to look at and take notes on throughout a session. In doing so, you are reinforcing key concepts in your brain. When creating handouts for the train-the-trainer session, I used two approaches. First, I created bullet-pointed, fill-in-the-blank pages that corresponded with each slide. Doing this allowed participants to capture, process and synthesize the information in their own words as they compare it to knowledge that they already possess on a topic. In addition to the handout package I prepared several additional handouts. These contained additional in-depth articles, lists of information, and resources to supplement the session content. This added value approach is usually appreciated by attendees and is like a bonus for registering to attend the program.
- Motion/Movement. The human eye is attracted to movement as part of a human’s natural fight of flight reaction to stimuli. As a facilitator, you can use motion to your advantage to attract or refocus attention throughout a session. Never become tethered to a lectern or projector.In my learning environments, I am continually positioning myself around different areas of the room. I use interactive room setups and move into and out of my participant’s seating areas. This results in my learners also moving their heads or chairs to follow me, thus stimulating their brain. All of this stimulates their brain neurons and aids alertness. If you are teaching via technology, you can also ask learners to stand and stretch for 30 seconds to re-energize them and provide a brief mental break. If you are in a classroom using a technology-based platform, build in activities where learners pair up with people in different parts of the room and work together for a short period before returning to their own computer.
- Music. Brain researchers have found that music can release the pleasure chemical Dopamine. To get a similar response from participants, I built in several opportunities to use music throughout my train-the-trainer workshop. Music playing as learners entered the room for the first time or returning from lunch or breaks filled the environment with sound to break the deafening silence often encountered in these instances. It was also used to signal the end of an activity, and at the end of the session as people left. At the beginning of my session, I referred to the various noisemakers and props that I planned to use in the session and explained their purpose. Since sound can attract attention, I use a variety of noisemakers when I am teaching in the classroom.
- Flip Charts. Many people consider flip charts as “old school” and not worth using. I beg to differ with that opinion. Using this time-tested training aid can add variety to virtually any classroom experience… and in a pinch you can tape multiple pages together if you need an impromptu slide screen. One reason that I use flip charts is that many people are visual learners and are easily distracted as they take mental breaks during your session. That is why I suggest that you remove anything possible from the training room that is not related to the learning topic.In lieu of quotes for my train-the-trainer program, I used a flipchart-based group energizer activity. I posted flip chart pages created with various colored markers and displaying closed-ended questions that I planned to use for an early participant needs assessment activity. When asked to do so, participants moved around the room to each charted question and put a line under the response that best described them.
- Slides. Slides are great visual aids if they are developed and used effectively. In my session, I always include images that relate to the topic and complement the text to enhance effectiveness. Additionally, I limit each slide to one concept and have around 3-5 bullet points without using long sentences. When projecting a slide, I introduce one point at a time on a slide rather than having all points appear simultaneously. The latter leads to learners trying to read everything while you are discussing a simple point; thus, reducing effectiveness and learner comprehension. If you are going to use slides in a technology-based session, allow at least one minute so that learners can read, take notes if desired, and process what they read. Also build in slides that ask questions or cause learners to stop, reflect and assimilate what they were learning. Another way to gain input is to utilize the chat function when available, along with polling functions that might be on your delivery platform. Additionally, try to interact with learners every 2-3 minutes by asking questions or posing a problem for them to consider.
- Props. In addition to using various visual aids to add color and novelty, I use a variety of session related toys and props that relate to brain-based concepts. You can find an enormous variety of such props online at Oriental Training Company, Rhode Island Novelty, and U.S. Toy Company. Other things that I put on participant tables before they arrived were bowls of peppermint candies on each table for them to eat throughout the day. Research has shown that smells like peppermint, spearmint and citrus stimulate brain neurons and help wake up the brain
My goal in planning and delivering this two-day workshop was to create an interactive environment where learners got information and ideas that they could immediately apply in their own program. I did this by using many brain-based learning techniques and strategies. These were built on what scientists and researchers have discovered in recent decades about how the human brain best gains, retains, recalls, and uses what it experiences.