Make it real – use your senses….. Guest Blog by Stella Collins


search.jpgI am very pleased to introduce to you, (drum roll…..) Stella Collins, author of “Neuroscience for L&D” and Creative Director of Stellar Learning. Stella knows lots of great practical stuff about the brain that can help people to learn better, with more retention and in this blog will be discussing the use of your senses! Stella’s brain friendly approach fits in perfectly with our approach using the 5 secrets of accelerated learning, where the 5th secret is about the brain and how it learns the best. So here are Stella’s thoughts……

Make it real – use your senses!

The Learning Loop - 18Do you ever read or hear something which makes you almost feel you’d been there yourself?  Then there are other times when you hear or read something and whilst you know all the words make sense and  the language is clear, somehow you just don’t quite ‘get it’- it seems a bit abstract, flat, hard to get a handle on?

Perhaps it’s because the abstract information isn’t rich enough for you to get a concrete, textural, sonorous, colourful, vibrant vision of the information.  Perhas there just isn’t quite enough going on in your brain to make it real and you’re relying on using your energy hungry pre-frontal cortex to analyse it.

When information comes to us directly through our senses we have a rich, complex mixture of information spreading throughout our brains.  I once heard we receive over 2 billion bits of information a second.  You have a visual cortex, auditory cortex, motor cortex,  an olfactory bulb for a sense of smell and part of your parietal lobe to process taste allowing a rich body of information to be processed throughout  your brain.  But when information is like this – just words – there is no direct sense  associated with them (just like in this sentence).  Which makes it harder for you or your audience to comprehend because there’s nothing very tangible to process.

There’s now research to back up what great speakers and writers have always known – using language that paints a picture, rings true or feels solid is making your brain work almost as if the sensory information is really there; which literally makes it easier to make sense of.

Researchers tested  what happened in subjects’ brains when they were touching rough textures like sandpaper.  They saw that specific parts of the brain were stimulated  when people feel texture in the real world.  Next they asked subjects to listen to short sentences containing textural metaphors such as ‘a rough day’ or ‘a slimy person’ and found that the same brain areas were activated.

So if you’re  training or sharing information use metaphors, stories, sensory based language because it’s really creating extraordinary sensations  in your audience’s head.  They will grasp your meaning, see your point or hear you out more easily – and remember it for longer too.


Like champagne without the fizz…….

IMG_1508So your objectives are achievable. The design is brain friendly, so you know it will be memorable. You use accelerated learning principles and the ball will be in the learners court 70% of the time….but……..are you providing your organisation with a Grand Cru that has lost its fizz?


  • Is your training aligned to what the business really needs?
  • Could you have chosen another method of learning, instead of training, that would have been more appropriate or cost-effective?
  • Are the stakeholders involved in the analysis and the evaluation phases?
  • Are the outcomes going to improve performance in some way to improve the way the organisation operates?
  • Are L&D seen as change agents, in-step with the reality of the changes going on with the organisation?

Brilliant workshops do not lead to a brilliant organisation unless they are leading the change at the same rate and in the same direction as the organisation. L&D have to be in step with the organisation and the way in which learning is changing. Donald Taylor, talks in more detail abut the “Training Ghetto”, a place where many L&D teams find themselves – not changing fast enough to keep up with the change in the organisation and not being part of the conversation for change.

training ghetto

Diagram taken from Donald Taylors blog post “Are you in the Training Ghetto?”





If you want to find a way out of the ghetto, then train your trainers in a way that inspires them as well as giving them the language to speak to the key stakeholders within the organisation. When they can speak the language of the stakeholders, they can really drill down to the needs of the organisation. Next Learning Loop workshop February 29th – March 1st, 2016

Walking the wire…..

I recently saw “The Walk”, the story of Philippe Petit and his high wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. What really struck me was, when Philippe Petit learned to walk a wire, he started off with six wires strung parallel and as his confidence and competence increased he removed one wire until just one wire remained. He could then move the wire higher and higher up as his technique and confidence improved. Secondly, his teacher did not stand over him but directed him as to how to learn for himself.
Reflecting on this film and how it relates to The Learning Loop® , I have found that groups of learners work best when they do not face the front of a classroom but learn  in a variety of ways; for themselves, from each other, from activities and from the facilitator even. This is the way that The Learning Loop® is facilitated. It does not simply “happen” but comes about through understanding four main variables that affect classroom learning. Understanding these will mean that the learners will be comfortable and at their best.IMG_5682

  • The environment – without a good environment you will severely limit the ability of the group to interact. This means that the choice of location and room set-up can help ensure that the group are ready to learn. The learners must also feel comfortable and “safe” to learn. You can help set up the right environment before they even come into the room through preparatory work and emails.(…….but that is another blog)
  • The balance of each group – without good balance there can be a tendency of one person to dominate a group so an idea of the attendees and their experience should be gained before an event.
  • How individuals and groups experience the learning – understanding the amount of knowledge that the groups already possess and be sensitive to that. Allow those with some knowledge to have a voice and share that knowledge.
  • Importantly – the way in which the learning is directed. This not only includes the task at hand (what is being learned) but how you facilitate that balance between self direction and facilitation.
So if you want to ensure that people learn well; not only do you have to set the learning environment up well but you need to understand how the environment affects group learning.

5 easy brain tips #5 for engaging learners

This is the 5th in my series of 5 easy brain tips for engaging learners from my session at the CIPD NAP conference in June 2015. The 5 brain tips can be remembered using the mnenomic CRUMMSS:

  • C – choice – last weeks blog
  • R – Rewards – this weeks blog
  • UM – Use metaphors
  • MS – Microskills
  • S – stories

When we tell stories our brains react not only through the traditional language areas in the brain (Brocas and Wernickes areas) but mumalso in those regions related to the story.

So if the storyteller speaks about baking and aromas, then those regions in the brain related to smell will be engaged. In this way the storyteller can almost plant ideas, thoughts and emotions in the listeners brain by using expressive language.

This work was carried out by a team of scentists at Princeton1, led by Uri Hasson where they observed MRI scans of the listeners and the storytellers brains. They found that the brain activities matched, showing the power of storytelling.

By using positive stories through an organisation, we can influence people to believe it is possible that change can take place and it will give them the same feel good factor that others have felt, even if they have not yet experienced it.

These are the 6 questions you can answer in order to come up with a well-structured story:

  1. What was the challenge (that worked out in the end?)
  2. How did you feel about it at the start?
  3. What help did you get?
  4. What was the outcome?
  5. What did you learn?
  6. What does it say about you?

(Story structure by Larry Reynolds)

Stories can also be used to “prime” people prior to an event. For example before a change programme, tell stories of how other organisations and individuals have come through similar changes with positive outcomes. Prior to a training event let others tell their stories about their experience on the course (a good one!)

  1. David Rock “Your Brain at Work”, Harper Business 2009


5 easy brain tips #3 for engaging learners

  This is the 3rd in my series of 5 easy brain tips for engaging learners from my session at the CIPD NAP conference in June 2015. In the next few blogs I will be revealing this fab graphic by Karen Foundling on the whole series

IMG_1212IMG_1279UM is for “Use Metaphor“. Emotions can run high during any change programme and a workshop can easily turn it into a whinge-fest. Allow people time to express their emotions using metaphors and limit the time for the whingeing.
Recent research from the CIPD*, shows that using uncertain rewards in learning can help increase adults emotional response to the learning and can be used to enhance the learning experience. Games with random prizes can play a significant part in retaining the attention of your learners

In his book, David Rock1 talks about the limbic brain (in charge of emotions) and how emotions can effectively overrun if you let them. Also suppressing them can actually increase the intensity of the emotions, as can talking about them freely. The surprising thing is, that if you talk about your emotions symbolically, with very few words it can help to keep them under control. What he alludes to is using metaphors can be a good way of expressing strong emotions, without getting overly emotional about the situation again.

For example if someone upsets me today, I could describe the feeling as a real “kick in the stomach” rather than going on endlessly about how it made me feel.

Thoughts for line managers:

Look at clean language for coaching your team members. It is a way of eliciting responses, without imparting your own judgments on an already emotive situation.

Examples of clean questions are:

Team member: “Today has been absolute hell for me!”

Clean response: “So this hell, what is that like for you?”

This way you carry on with the metaphor the individual has begun with.

Team member: “Today is going to be a complete waste of time now!”

Clean response: “In order for this day to be of use, it has to be like what?”

*CIPD Fresh Thinking in L&D Part 1 of 3 Neuroscience and Learning Feb 2014

5 easy brain tips #2 for engaging learners

 This is the second of my series of blogs from a session I ran at the CIPD NAP conference. The five tips can be remembered by using the mnemonic CRUMMSS.

  • C – choice – last weeks blog
  • R – Rewards – this weeks blog
  • UM – Use metaphors
  • MS – Microskills
  • S – stories

IMG_1186R for Rewards. There has to be some reward involved for people to make the changes to their behaviour that the organisation needs. Just holding on to their jobs may not be enough.

When there is the promise of reward, dopamine is released into the bloodstream and this keeps learners engaged. You can put your brain into the right chemical sweet spot by thinking about the rewards and also using humour.

Both dopamine and adrenaline, are neurochemicals which are produced when excited. Fear just yields adrenaline. The expectation of a negative event also reduces dopamine. Too much adrenaline causes negative effects. So getting the right balance between excitement and engagement is crucial.

IMG_5003Recent research from the CIPD(1), shows that using uncertain rewards in learning can help increase adults emotional response to the learning and can be used to enhance the learning experience. Games with random prizes can play a significant part in retaining the attention of your learners. If learners do not know what the prize is, then they are more likely to be emotionally connected to the game.

Rewards for your learners could be: stickers, points, sweets, a certificate, being on the winning team and getting a cheer or even a treat from a pound store! It does not have to be expensive.

1. Fresh Thinking in L&D Part 1 of 3 Neuroscience and Learning Feb 2014


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