In our last blog piece, we provided a short summary of the CIPD report entitled ‘Neuroscience in Action: Applying Insight to L&D Practice.’ We also touched on Appendix 1 of the report, namely “Five ‘no-brainers’ from neuroscience research,” which was written by Dr Paul Howard-Jones of Bristol University.
Now we’ll be talking a bit more about each of these five “no-brainers,” which are essentially guidelines for HR and L&D professionals as regards utilising research from the neuroscience field. In this respect, the no-brainers also have a high degree of relevance for our work here at PCA.
As we discussed in our last blog piece, Appendix 1 begins by talking about how the plastic nature of our brains, or neuroplasticity. This means that learning can alter the “function, connectivity and even the structure” of our brains. As a result, “each of us has an important role to play in constructing our own brain,” and the five no-brainers are essentially “tools to get constructing with.”
The first of the five no-brainers is that challenging questions or problems should be addressed in teams. This is because it is easier to shut down “automated thought” and draw on our creative powers to find solutions when we are collaborating and sharing ideas with others. In addition, our creativity increases when we are “challenged by tasks that force us to make unusual mental connections.”
The second no-brainer is that “regular and sufficient sleep is essential for the brain to learn efficiently.” The reason for this is that the reproduction of daytime activities in the brain during sleep helps to establish these activities in our memories. In addition, caffeine consumption can be disruptive to any sleep that follows, and also “tends to suppress cognitive thought when used habitually.”
The third no-brainer is that learning sessions should be spaced out over time. It has long been understood that we are able to put into practice more of what we learn when our learning is acquired gradually, although exactly why this is so has been a scientific mystery. However, a recent study involving brain imaging demonstrated “extra activity in a part of the brain we use for verbal rehearsal.” This suggests that we do more “unconscious practising” of any learning we do when it is spaced out over time.
The fourth no-brainer is that we should be careful and judicious in our use of technology, as it can “enhance or diminish brain function.” For example, working on a computer just prior to bedtime can be detrimental to sleep quality, as staring closely at bright screens can diminish production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. On the other hand, playing “off-the-shelf action video games” can actually heighten cognitive abilities – provided that they are played significantly before bedtime.
The fifth and final no-brainer is that physical exercise can boost both our memory and our neural learning networks. Aerobic exercise on a regular basis can improve the efficiency of the learning networks in our brain , including the parts of our brain that “help guide our attention.” As for our memory, physical exercise can increase the flow of blood and the neural connectivity in the hippocampus part of our brain, which is “an important region for memory.” Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that physical exercise can even increase the size of the hippocampus, with “corresponding improvements in memory.”
As we mentioned at the beginning of this piece, each of these five no-brainers are highly relevant to the work we do here at PCA, and for the L&D profession as a whole. However, you will undoubtedly have noticed that the no-brainers are also applicable as guidelines for the wider community as a whole, which people can follow in their everyday lives. In this respect, we hope that this blog piece has been both informative and helpful for our readers, and we look forward to sharing further blog pieces with you soon.