Using Social Science for Learning

Let’s face it, we’re social beings. We don’t live in isolation, and most of us don’t work in isolation. Even if we work alone, we connect with others through various ways.

There’s now an entire body of evidence about the impact that social interaction has on us: namely the Social Neuroscience of learning. As we have evolved into more social beings, we have become more sensitive to the environment around us.

Here are some “Social Science” tips I keep in mind when developing training and performance improvement solutions:

  • Use teamwork or team projects to promote social-emotional learning. It decreases learner conflict and creates positive social climates, which are invaluable to learning. Encouragement and optimism have been shown to positively impact performance — and so does a compassionate and positive regard for learners.
  • Use storytelling to connect both sides of the brain. When we’re being told a story, things change. The language processing parts of our brain are activated, of course, but so are other areas we would use if actually experiencing the events of the story. For example, when someone tells a story about delicious food, the sensory area (right side) of our brain lights up.
  • Teach learners to question their assumptions and the possible influences of past experiences and unconscious biases on their opinions and feelings. The brain is able to process incoming information, evaluate it based on a lifetime of experience, and present it to us in half a second. The brain then creates the illusion that what we’re experiencing is happening right now and that we’re making decisions based on our conscious thought processes.
  • Create a positive environment for learning. The brain, mind, and body are interwoven. Learning can be enhanced by certain environmental conditions and hampered by others such as a room being too cold or too hot, or sitting for too long. Exercise (or even just moving around more) has been shown to stimulate the brain by pumping in more oxygen and creating new neurons.
  • Use short snippets or “chunks” of information (also known as microlearning) and repetition to allow deeper learning to occur. The brain has evolved to remain vigilant to a constantly changing environment; we learn better in brief intervals.
  • Let learners discover the details. Present ideas or concepts at a higher level, and let learners fill in the details on their own. We’re born to explore and learn through trial and error. Using what we learn to attempt to solve real-world problems, and adjusting our behaviors or ideas based on the results, adds to the retention of information and skills.

How are you using “social science” in the design and development of your learning solutions?

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