Written by:

Holly Macdonald


July 13, 2010

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Brain-based learning.  It certainly does seem to be a hot topic.  I ain’t no neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, or MRI technician, so obviously anything I write will be purely opinion!

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way…

Tony has amassed quite a list of thought-provoking posts, which I could never hope to match.  I do think one really critical aspect of brain-based learning that has struck me this year is not the cognitive side, but the executive function, that pre-frontal cortex stuff.  The one that says: we feel before we think.  

I repeat: we feel before we think.  

For instructional designers (actually all designers), I think this is a very important consideration.  How do we engage our audience emotionally in learning experiences?  What emotions are we hoping to evoke?  If we don’t consider this aspect, we miss a crucial part of the designing for the whole brain.  I think (based on my mild obsession with Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind) that what we really need to focus on is not so much the cognitive or cerebral stuff, but the emotional side.

I think one of the potential challenges many instructional designers face, especially e-learning, would be stepping out of the analytical shoes and getting in touch with their humanistic side or getting touchy-feely.  Engage your audience in a story.  Create a competitive challenge.  Use humour.  Use surprise.  If you aren’t able to do that through the e-learning itself – figure out if you can blend in some kind of face-to-face or alternative element – podcasts or videos to introduce which provide the element of surprise, humour or mystery.  I also wrote about this in a previous post.

I would say that not everything needs to be a story, so not to go O-T-T (over the top, one of my favorite Briticisms – my husband is a Brit).  Building a performance support solution?  Maybe doesn’t need to be a version of the History Detectives!  Just don’t be one of those themey designers, where you try to make everything fit neatly into your theme.