Dope Your Learning: The Science Behind Getting Your Brain To Enjoy Work

By

Sashe Kanapathi

08-06-2018

3 min read

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We all want to learn, or at least, we say we do. Though, sometimes, I have my doubts if most people genuinely mean this. We also know that learning should result in some sort of a change; ultimately a change of behaviour.

And change is something that leads to anxiety in some way or the other. So how do we make change easier to digest?
By making it fun of course.

Did you know that when you are having fun, the excited brain releases more dopamine? Yes, this is the same neuro chemical that we associate with mediating pleasure.

Some other helpful benefits of dopamine are to enhance memory, attention and even cognition. So, the more fun you have, the more dopamine in your brain, and as a result, you become more engaged and attentive.

As Martha Burns from scilearn.com states,

I like to refer to dopamine as the ‘save button’ in the brain. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it is absent, nothing seems to stick.

In that sense, it would be easy to conclude that if learning is made to be fun, then there is a higher chance for learning to be absorbed meaningfully. Hence, we need to “Dope our Learning”.

 

The chemical dopamine, is a neurotransmitter, responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body.

Related post: Sim-biosis: The Secret Behind A Dynamic Team

The idea is to have fun while learning, to enhance the learning experience. In adult education, this is easier said than done. Each person has a different way of having fun.

So, how do you deliver a programme to make learning fun for everyone? How do we present content in an exciting and novel way that applies to everyone?

For adults, experience has proven that there are five key components to achieve a fun learning experience:

1. Humour

Humour is universal in its appeal and is something that can be injected by facilitators to engage the learners. It’s important not to overdo it of course, so that it isn’t distracting. Just the right amount can go a long way to keep engagement levels high.

2. Technology

Technology has now become a part of everyone’s lives and something that is second nature to most. It is important to use technology for the value that it provides in making learning accessible.

By using something that is familiar yet, provides benefits in terms of speed and complexity at your fingertips, it enhances the learning experience.

3. Experimentation

Experimentation is fun if it entails exploring new concepts in a safe environment. We need to create an environment that allows for failure while engaging the learners’ imagination to try out new things.

4. Competition

It’s important to allow for competition in learning, as long as it is friendly competition. However, it should also be challenging enough to keep learners motivated. This is a key component of gamification.

5. Benefit

It’s important to show learners that the learning is beneficial to them in some way. This can be with rewards (as in gamification), but also show them how it can be applied to real life.

Of the five aspects of training listed above, the first one, humour, is one that is left to the facilitators. However, the remaining four aspects can be delivered through creative programme design. The most efficient way to deliver this fun learning experience is through simulations.

As I’ve shared in previous articles, simulations come in all shapes and forms. We have simulations that are based on role playing, as well as board-based, and lately things have become more digital in approach. They all provide the four aspects of fun learning experience described above.

Here’s a scenario that demonstrates how the five components – in no particular order – are integrated in a simulation:

Simulations need to be able to transpose the participant, preferably using technology (two), into a very specific situation that has a defined objective.

The means of achieving the objective require the participants to accomplish tasks that will help them practise the behaviours that the simulation was designed for.

By competing with other people (four), while trying to win (five), participants find themselves trying different behaviours (three). Eventually this leads to an “aha” moment when either the right behaviour is discovered by one team, or it’s shared through an engaging debrief process (one).

In our experience, we find that the best way to use simulations is by prepping learners with some content prior.

This gets them primed to the topic and equipped enough to experience the simulation effectively.

If there is no content given, some learners may wind up spending too much of the simulation experience trying to navigate and make sense of the situation at hand instead of learning from the experiential opportunity.

The post simulation debrief is also as important as the simulation itself to extract the learning and to re-play the experience. It also provides context to the activity.

This way, by utilising simulations in any content delivery, we are able to make sure that learning is fun. And fun means more dopamine, which means better absorption as well as retention.

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