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Cognitive Learning vs Neuroscience in L&D

People in learning and development are always seeking ways to help people better understand information. They are tuned in to recent trends and new and developing methodologies. And we here at AllenComm are doing the same.

Recently, there has been an industry buzz happening. You have probably already heard the word neuroscience. Some people are trying to convince L&D professionals that if they aren’t basing every step of training on neuroscience, they are not using the most cutting-edge theories and techniques. We all know how fast our world changes and grows. Sometimes, we feel that if we don’t grab hold of the newest information, the train will leave the station without us.

But here’s the thing. Neuroscience has no real application in corporate training.

What is neuroscience? What is cognitive science?

True neuroscience is the medical study of neurons in the brain. Neurons are nerve cells built to process and transmit the electrical and chemical transitions of normal brain function. As core components of the central nervous system, neurons are mapped and studied by physicians researching such diseases as MS, Parkinson’s and epilepsy.

Cognitive science studies human thought processes, such as attention and memory. It’s about how we process information – about how we think.

Here is one way to look at it. Imagine your best friend tells you about a new recipe for, say, pasta sauce. Neuroscience explains the process of your brain interpreting the sound waves originating from your friend’s mouth to your eardrum and then your brain for interpretation into words. That’s the automatic function of our nervous system. But, as you are processing your friend’s words, you wonder if shallots would be better than onions. That brain process? That’s cognition. That is your brain interpreting the words, and making decisions about the marinara you will serve to your in-laws next weekend.

What’s best for training?

The neuroscience train is nowhere near ready to be put on the tracks, let alone leave the station. The problem with claiming neuroscience is an effective tool of corporate training is that claim is largely immeasurable outside a medical testing environment. And every reputable neuroscientist will tell you the same thing. Which is: We just don’t know enough about our brains yet. Our brains are a wonderful, powerful mass of function and form that we have only begun to understand.

No science backs up the claim that understanding neuroscience can help improve your training. There are many theories touting the ability to harness neuroscience to improve a student’s knowledge and retention.

At Allen, we know cognitive learning is proven and effective. It is the basis of our work and the secret to our success. We are all about that sauce.

Cognitive learning methods create measurable results. Neuroscience cannot do the same. It will not be a viable option for measuring effective training until scientists develop a small, portable MRI machine that can fit in your filing cabinet next to your sack lunch and old status reports.

According to Will Thalheimer, PhD and president of Work-Learning Research, “As learning professionals, we must be more skeptical of neuroscience claims. As research and real-world experience has shown, such claims can persuade us toward ineffective learning designs and unscrupulous vendors and consultants.”

In other words, we still have a lot to learn.