Tag Archives: Learning

Stella Collins, Neuroscience for Learning and Development


This book provides a good overview of brain functioning and of how the physical structures and its biochemistry is related to the psychological and behavioral elements in learning.

While there is currently a strong interest in neuroscience and lots that is published about it, Collins warns about being critical about what we read that starts with “what neuroscience says…”. As for everything that comes from scientific literature, we should be critical of whether what we are told is in fact scientifically sound or not. (Key questions to ask: Who did the research? What’s on their agenda? Where was it first published? When was it published and when else? How was the science done? What is the result saying?)

One of the key things Collins tells us about is that to learn we must first be curious. The positive feelings that come from satisfying curiosity are generated by the same mechanisms as other pleasurable experiences, such as eating a delicious piece of chocolate if you are a chocolate lover. Dopamine is released and it’s quite addictive!

Second, there has to be a way for learning “to stick” or to be remembered. This means that we have to create the right level of attention and motivation for learning to be persistent about learning. Sometimes, it means providing options to practice and repeat, in order to create new neural pathways. It is also helpful to make the learning multisensory (for all learners!). And focus is better than multitasking, of which you can remind learners that try to learn while keeping in touch with the day-to-day of their work. Other tools to help learners remember and anchor learning: linking learning to emotions, novelty, stories, smell or context. And foster creativity by helping learners to be playful and to experiment with new ideas and behaviors.

If you are a learning and development professional, chances are you use techniques and tricks that you have learned on the job, rules of thumbs acquired from others, and your “good old common sense” based on your own experience. This book looks at why some things work and some things don’t. And you might be surprised at the things that we do that are not as effective as we might think. Understanding why will make us far more effective.

Thanks to Kogan Page and NetGalley for access to a review copy of this book.


Collins, Stella. Neuroscience for Learning and Development: How to Apply Neuroscience and Psychology for Improved Learning and Training. Kogan Page, London, 2016.

Other things:

A Method for Career Planning: Doing a Business Plan


This book suggests doing career planning as you would write a business plan for any business… a fairly simple idea, unless you don’t know how to write a business plan. This books proceeds to explain you how and proposes a one-page format, both for the brainstorming part (do as a large poster so you can stick post-it notes to it) and as the final documented version.

The basic business model canvas includes the following nine building blocks: customers, value provided, channels, customer relationship, revenue, key resources, key activities, key partners and costs. The book provides many examples of people working to define what they have to offer to the job market. This approach very much reminds me of a former boss who always talked about being marketable and constantly working on ensuring that you were marketable for the benefit of hi s consulting firm as well as for your own employability. He was fond of asking questions such as: “What have you done for Sylvie Inc. this week?”

Before you can define your value, you have to do some thinking about who you are and what you want. You have to determine what you like, what you want out of life, what gives it meaning. Then thinking about the various roles that you play (professional, spouse, parent, child, friend, etc.), determine your current and future priorities. You also have to look at your skills and abilities, as well as the kind of person you are (your own assessment of that, and the perception of others).

Based on this, you can define what your life and career purpose is. From this you can redefine your purpose and write your business model. This becomes your new working hypothesis for the future, until new information or events drive you to a revision.

The business model provides an interesting metaphor for career planning, and this book, with its funky, open, scrapbook-like design, is a fun tool to accompany you on your career planning journey.


Clark, Tim, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Business Model You: A One-Page Method for Reinventing Your Career, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, 2012.





Jolts! Activities to Wake Up and Engage Your Participants


Thiagi is famous for designing games and advocating the use of games in training. Jolts is one more offering in this line of work that focuses on short playful activities.

The authors define jolts as “brief activities that challenge (and maybe push, jar, and sometimes shock) participants to re-examine their comfortable assumptions and habitual practices”. They may be used as icebreakers, energizers, transitions from one topic to another. They may also serve as learning activities to support a learning point or to vary the pace of training.

There are two types of jolts: enlightenment jolts and entrapment jolts. Enlightenment jolts are designed to create “ah ah” moments for participants. On the other hand, entrapment jolts are designed to lead participants down the wrong path by inducing a mistake, thereby resulting in learning about how the spontaneous behaviours or thought patterns of participants need to be questioned.

The book proposes 50 jolts. Each is described at length and the authors provide a synopsis, the purpose of the jolt, a list of related training topics, the number of participants, the time required for the activity and debriefing, the supplies required, preparation, flow of the activity, indications on how to conduct the debriefing activities and specific learning points than can be made.

Like many other books of this type, you may find that the activities proposed do not fit your specific needs. However, the dynamic format in itself is an inspiration to develop one’s own or to use variations of Thiagi’s collection to create more stimulating training. The first section provides a solid foundation for using jolts, facilitating, and debriefing them so that it is easy to go beyond the 50 examples given in the second section of the book and use one’s creativity.


Thiagarajan, Sivasailam and Tracy Tagliati, Jolts! Activities to Wake Up and Engage Your Participants, Pfeiffer, 2011.



Tricks for Training Transfer


One of the great frustrations for trainers is to work hard in the classroom just to feel that, even though participants might have enjoyed the training in itself, it really just doesn’t make a different in the work place. If in the end, there is no lasting learning, people just don’t apply anything back in the workplace, and our work is all for nought.

And who wants to work for no results? I sure don’t.

There are a number of books on the topic of workplace transfer. I own several. They all offer useful ways to foster the transfer of learning. For example:

Before a training activity:

– Discuss learning objectives with direct supervisor (to focus attention and provide motivation for learning)

– Do some prework (to prime the pump so to speak)

During the training activity:

– Use ice-breakers to help participants disconnect from everyday concerns and focus better on learning

– Have participants draw up action plans to put into effect after training

– Have participants make explicit links between outcomes of activities and real life challenges

– Have participants work on their own cases to apply concepts and tools to real life right from the start

After training:

– Have learning teams or co-development group meetings

– Have coaching from the direct supervisor

– Have participant complete a project and report on it

I have yet to see any of those strategies really work though. There are so many things getting in the way, especially lack of time, both on the part of the participant and his/her direct supervisor. Neither corporate training department and HR have sufficient resources for follow-up and coaching.

So much effort wasted, it seems.

Some of the books in this area are nicely put together and are really useful. I was reading Barbara Carnes’ Making Learning Stick on the bus into town this morning. Good structure, clear how-to instructions, including alternatives (variations on a theme).

My early readings in this area included Mary Broad’s books. And then you can easily start looking at the literature on organizational development for a broader perspective on the possible impact of training as a tool for change.

And there you have it, I have almost psyched myself back up to thinking that my training sessions can make a difference and that I have to keep trying to make it happen, one day at a time (Day 3 of a team effectiveness workshop tomorrow!).

Nice Little Resource Book on Learning and Development


I recently was handed a nice little book on learning and development. It covers all the major topics.

I particularly like the tips on how to use SMEs both in the classroom and during design (on page 141 onward).

Text is kept to a minimum and there are frequent references to related topics within the book, as well as references to other sources. This a  good resource to both experienced L&D folks (to jog your memory when you get stale) and newbies (to inspire you to get out and try things).


Emerson, Tricia and Mary Stewart. The Learning and Development Book. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press, 2011.   Online

On using blogs as a learning tool


In Social Media for Trainers, Jane Bozarth suggests using blogs as a common sharing space where people can contribute content in a chronological way. While it may seem less interactive than Twitter or Facebook and does not support the creation of a network of “friends” or “followers”, it nevertheless enables response to content posted as well as knowledge sharing.

The first thing you need to decide if you are going to use a blog for on-line learning is whether their will be one single blog for the course or whether participants will create their own individual blogs. In order for the effort to be successful, the facilitator would have to lead by examples and feed the blog (if there is a common one), or add input to her/her own blog (if using separate ones) on a regular basis to keep it fresh. Since blogging usually involves longer posts (compare to a tweet), this may require some effort. It is also likely to be less attractive to those who are weaker writers or may feel self-conscious about their writing abilities (there will be additional difficulties here in situations where we ask people to write in a second or third language).

Blogs can be used to host a course on line or to support a traditional classroom-based course.

Bozarth says that blogs can be used for course pre-work to:

v  Hold icebreakers
v  Do a skill inventory
v  Post questions in advance, so that the facilitator can prepare to answer them or integrate relevant content in the session

Between sessions, the blog can be used to:

v  Hold general discussions (including about the challenges of applying skills taught in class back in the workplace)
v  Post content summaries
v  Post links to relevant sites, YouTube videos, etc.
v  Do an on-line scavenger hunt
v  Hold a debate
v  Work on a case study
v  Get help from peers
v  Collect learner feedback
v  Carry out summative and formative evaluation
v  Post assignments (and even final projects at the end of the course)

An interesting extension of blogging is the use of wikis. Even more than blogs, wikis can foster collaboration between learners as they can edit the same materials to produce collective assignments. This could be used for group projects, or an all-class record of the course experience. Bozarth devotes a full chapter to this tool as well.

I see some challenges to the use of both blogs and wikis, including the time factor, as mentioned in my “Twitter” blog post. It may also not be appropriate to those training sessions that we offer in the organization as a one-day course (that in itself is a problem, very much “hit-and-run” training…).

I will have to work harder to find an occasion to test the use of blogging as a learning tool. I know writing is a useful tool for me; it helps clarifying and order my ideas and it usually serves to deepen my understanding of a topic. It is the ideal time to ask the all-purpose “So what?” and toy with possible answers.

What have you tried and how did it work for you?



Bozarth, Jane, Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning, Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 2010.

On using Twitter as a learning tool


In Social Media for Trainers, Jane Bozarth explains some of the possible uses of social media to meet learners where they are. That means that in the case where social media is in use, where learners consider them a normal part of how they interact and communicate, they can be extended to become part of the learning process. Note that the converse of that is that social media should not be imposed on those who have no wish to use them (they may not be very familiar with on-line tools beyond surfing the Internet) or have difficulty conceiving of how such tools can be useful to them. In such cases, social media may become more a hindrance then a learning tool.

That being said, social media tools can assist with learning in several different ways: “better transfer of learning, more engagement in the learning process, growth of a learning community, support for informal learning” (p. 17).The use of social media is not an end in itself but can provide tools to do all of the above.

Bozarth describes the use of Twitter as a “virtual water cooler” (p. 24), a quick virtual meeting place to share ideas, resources, and links to useful sites. Because it is very open, it is very easy for all to contribute and it makes it possible to gather information from outside a given learning community.  Some may find Twitter annoying because of its “messiness”, the 140-character limit, and its “in the moment” nature. It is not a place to store information, but is meant for instantaneous sharing. But as Bozarth mentions, “it provides an easy way to maintain connections, share thoughts, or ask for advice.” (p. 25).

Bozarth give some quite instructions on how to set up an account and how to use some of Twitters features. For example, she explains how to use a specific hash tag to make it easier for a group to find each others tweets.

Here are some suggestions on using Twitter before a training event:

  • Ask learners to introduce themselves
  • Use Twitter for a virtual icebreaker
  • Send prework assignments, such as reading an article on-line, watch a video on YouTube, or do an web search on a given topic

Twitter could be use as a “backchannel”, for chatting about the course as the course is taking place. Bozarth maintains that this would not be much different (and no more a distraction) than manually taking notes on a notepad.

Twitter can be used between sessions of a program:

  • Continuing conversations from class
  • Sending follow-up comments, such a answers to questions asked in class
  • Talking to subject-matter experts outside the classroom setting
  • Setting up a debate or role-play on-line
  • Reflecting on relevant articles, videos, blogs or websites
  • Furthering the participants’ knowledge by having them engage in independent research through Twitter
  • Brainstorming or polling
  • Carrying out formative or summative evaluations

All of this can be continued after sessions have been completed.

“Experienced trainers – and experienced learners – have felt the rush of good intentions as they leave a training experience, only to see it fade and dissipate as the realities of the day-to-day job set in. Twitter is an easy means of helping learners stay in touch with one another and with the trainer, supporting the growth of a learning community and continued development, providing encouragement and support as learners work to apply their new skills, and serving as a vehicle for cultivating a learning community.” (p. 45)

I was exhilarated as I first read that chapter. I was envisioning a vibrant continuing response to the learning experience started in the classroom. That vision started to fade in the past week as I facilitated training that did not seem to fully resonate even in the classroom, where the presentation of the co-development team process that is meant to complement the program met with a tepid reaction (at best!). My leadership development program participants expect to be transformed by their classroom participation, but certainly don’t want to engage in anything that adds to their already busy day-to-day…

But still I have certainly found Twitter an interesting source of stimulating information related both to work and my personal pursuits, and I do intend to give it a try as a learning tool. I just need to find an appropriate “pilot project” at work to try a few little things and see how it turns out. Then I can turn my mind to how that can be extended. That promises to be interesting even if only a few engage in the experiment with me.

Who out there is using Twitter for learning and how does it work for you?


Bozarth, Jane, Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning, Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 2010.

Getting Creative in Training with Social Media


I just finished reading Social Media for Trainers by Jane Bozarth and I have found it quite enlightening. She talks primarily about the uses of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis as learning tools, both on their own and as complements to other delivery modes. It may be quite a challenge to integrate these tools depending on the learning culture of your organization but they may provide interesting avenues. Will say more in subsequent posts.

Training on Trial


I’ve been reading Training on Trial: How Workplace Learning Must Reinvent Itself to Remain Relevant. It is a rather clear presentation of what must be done to ensure that training delivers business results. It is also a frustrating read when one considers how difficult it is to make our non-training colleagues in the organization realize that there is much to do beyond the classroom to develop competencies, change behaviors and generate business results.

The Kirkpatricks highlight the importance of what gets done before and after training in generating business results. And here we are not merely talking about pre-work and post-work assigned to the learner, but to creating the right conditions in the environment for learning to take hold.

They also emphasize the importance of evaluation and of the “chain of evidence” in demonstrating business value. In this way, it is a good complement to Donald Kirkpatrick’s book on the four levels.


Kirpatrick, Jim D., and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick, Training on Trial: How Workplace Learning Must Reinvent Itself to Remain Relevant, Amacom: New York, NY, 2010.

Kirkpatrick, Donald L., Evaluating Training Programs, 2nd edition, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA, 1998.