You have 1 minute to engage your audience, here are 10 tips from the neuroscience of learning

When considering learner-led training, most evidence demonstrates that people turn to videos to learn new skills, new techniques or to gain knowledge. Indeed, YouTube statistics show that more than one billion learning-related videos are viewed every day. Video or visual learning really is a learner’s medium of choice.

In addition to considering the medium of learning, there’s a ‘thought-shift’ from the concept of fixed learning styles to flexible learning strategies and learner choice.

It is acknowledged that it is important to consider the process of how people think and learn, known as ‘metacognition’, and research proves that learning increases if rewards are maximised and threats minimised.

Neuroscience can demonstrate that ‘cognitive overload’ can be avoided if learning is presented in chunks and made enjoyable. In addition, engagement and retention increase if learning has personal relevance, and neuroplasticity shows that learning and change can take place for those willing to engage.

Top tips from neuroscience

In The neuroscience of joyful education, Judy Willis highlights the importance of learning being a stress-free and enjoyable experience for effective outcomes. She uses the acronym RAD, which relates to specific brain areas and functions, to encourage learning professionals to integrate neuroscience into their practice. 

R (Reticular activating system [RAS]): All information enters the brain through sensory inputs but only a fraction makes it through the unconscious RAS filter.

Tip 1. To ensure learning passes through the RAS filter, learning content should be non-threatening, novel and engaging. 

A (Amygdala): This is the part of the brain’s limbic system which acts as a filter to send information to the reactive or reflective
areas of the brain. Learning requires reflection, which is supported by stress-free environments in which positive past experiences and strengths are highlighted.

Tip 2. Stressful environments should be avoided, as these can lead to a fight, flight or freeze response. 

D (Dopamine): This chemical neurotransmitter, linked to our sense of pleasure, is released during pleasurable experiences.

Tip 3. Effective learning is supported by creating positive associations with existing knowledge and past success, and
through engaging and creative activities. 


Increased awareness of how each of us thinks and learns, sometimes known as ‘metacognition’, is therefore perhaps the most important advantage of applying learning theories from neuroscience. 


David Rock based the SCARF model on human behaviour, focusing on how the brain responds to threats and rewards. He considers there to be five factors:

All of which have a strong bearing on how we engage in social, interactive and collaborative settings. The SCARF model proposes that learning increases as threats are minimised, and rewards maximised.

Tip 4. Learners display increased engagement when they perceive reward, and less when they sense threat. 

S (Status): Learning that’s perceived to enhance status, will be motivational.

Tip 5. Outline the benefits for the learner.

C (Certainty): If we lack certainty about a situation our impulse may be to disengage from the experience.

Tip 6. Clear steps and a sense of order can increase learning transfer. 

A (Autonomy): A degree of autonomy in learning is a key factor in reducing stress, as it means we have some influence over what is taking place.

Tip 7. Effective learning involves some choice and control. 

R (Relatedness): If we feel trust, empathy and social connection during learning, oxytocin is released in the brain, which increases engagement. 

Tip 8. Find ways to establish social connections.

F (Fairness): A sense of unfairness stirs hostility and threat.

Tip 9. Learning which is perceived as fair and justified is motivational.

Tip 10. Less is more. The first minute of any learning event is critical…get your audience engaged and you will be able to keep their interest for at least 15 minutes.

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