It’s important to design your classes to take into account how the whole body learns or how learning is not “all in your head”. What are different factors that influence learning and how do people learn?

Learning is not all in your head. It takes place throughout your entire body. All of your senses are deeply involved in the process of learning. In fact, you cannot separate your senses from learning. After all, how would you learn anything if you were not using any of your senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste. You would have no inputs to your learning process. So, how does the entire body learn?

The entire body, including the brain, learns through movement and repetition but learning can be altered by stress and emotions. Movement is needed to engage the brain while repetition is used to move the information into your long term memory. Stress needs to be minimized as you learn while your emotions need to be tuned to learning.

Most people can learn at an “A” level if they are given enough time and appropriate instruction. Therefore, the problem with training is time.

In business we do not have the luxury of spending a lot of time. We usually only have hours to deliver days worth of material. People need to pick up the concepts quickly. The question is how can we speed up the learning process? The answer is in understanding how people learn in the first place.

People learn in a variety of ways but there are three main factors that influence the speed at which you learn anything new: aptitude (IQ), prerequisite knowledge and the quality of instruction.

APTITUDE AND LEARNING

The most often used measure of aptitude is Intelligence Quotient or IQ. An average person would be defined as having an IQ of 100. A person with a high IQ means that they have above average intelligence. In training this translates into the ability to grasp new ideas and concepts quickly.

So, the more high IQ students you have in a class the easier it is for the teacher. That’s because they can quickly fill in the “training gaps” on their own and teach themselves. I am sure you have experienced such “training gaps”. It’s when the teacher is presenting concepts and you feel like they have not been fully explained. You start to feel lost and then you drift away while in class.

High IQ students may drift off also but the difference is they understand the concepts and may be getting bored. The problem is high IQ students actually make it harder for everyone else. The teacher needs to fix the “training gaps” so that everyone can learn quickly. We can’t and don’t have companies of all high IQ employees. So, we can’t design classes with “training gaps”.

PREREQUISITE KNOWLEDGE AND LEARNING

The other way people learn quicker is by having prerequisite knowledge of the subject. Prerequisite knowledge is the extent to which you already possess the foundation for the material you are attempting to learn. Schools do this all the time by breaking up the learning into multiple classes that build on each other.

For example, if you want to take our ISO Internal Auditor course then you would need to complete the online ISO 9001 foundation class first. The foundation class discusses what ISO 9000 quality standards are all about. By ensuring that everyone has read and understands the ISO 9001 standard then the class can cover the rest of the auditor material a lot faster since we know that everyone has at least a basic understanding of ISO compliance.

Both aptitude and prerequisite knowledge are student characteristics and many times we don’t have control over these two variables. Employees have operational functions to complete and cannot spend too much time in training. But we do have a lot of control of the last factor – quality of instruction. In fact, we have toal, 100% control over our own instructional quality.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION AND LEARNING

When talking about the quality of instruction we want to go beyond the basic principles of course design:

  • Break course into instructional units.
  • Define the learning objectives for each unit.
  • Determine how students will demonstrate mastery of the learning objectives for a unit prior to beginning the next unit.

All courses must exhibit the basic principles of course design. Learning is not all in your head. Learning takes place throughout your entire body. To be effective, instructors must design their classes to take into account how the whole body learns.

Factors That Influence Learning:

Movement

Our body’s senses provide a continuous stream of data to the brain, which we use to make decisions about the environment around us. The thoughts we produce will be expressed back through the very same senses we used to collect information from in the first place: speaking, creating music, or typing on a computer to record your thoughts.

When your hands are active, your brain is more engaged. Therefore, “hands-on” learning — drawing, playing games, acting out an experience — activates the brain. The brain needs movement to keep it focused on the task of learning.

Repetition

A famous study on retention of textbook materials compared the percentage of material remembered after different intervals of time. The results:

Time Interval
% Remembered
% Forgotten
After 1 day
54%
46%
After 7 days
35%
65%
After 14 days
21%
79%
After 21 days
18%
82%
After 28 days
19%
81%
After 63 days
17%
83%

In another study on recall after listening to a lecture, students forgot more than 90% of the material after 14 days! Remembering what you’ve heard in lectures is even more difficult, because you’re not able to slow down, pause, or reflect on what you’ve heard. Lecturing does not provide for effective training.

To overcome the natural “fading” effect of short-term memory, you must recall and repeat what you want to remember. With each repetition, the brain moves the information into longer term portions of memory, so repetition is definitely one of the factors that influence learning. The process of recalling over increasing intervals of time is called spaced repetition.

People with different IQs have similar spaced repetition recall patterns. For example, if you learn a foreign word, you will need to repeat it within 10 minutes, then 24 hours, and again within 5-7 days to ensure 95% retention. And then again, 25-30 days later and again within six months. After a few repetitions like this, you are on your way to storing information for recall for years.

Feedback

Feedback is one of the critical factors that influence learning and is also the main factor in creating controlled procedures. The learning loop and PDCA discusses feedback as the primary driver of improvement.

People are more likely to continue what they are doing if they receive positive feedback. Conversely, too much negative feedback will cause people to stop. When learning a new task, people need constant positive reinforcement to overcome the failures introduced along the path of learning.

Stress and Emotions

factors that influence learningStress caused by some type of physical or emotional trauma produces a hormone called cortisol that disrupts the connections between brain cells in the learning and memory part of the brain. Too much stress literally “shuts down” the brain and stops the learning process cold. Emotions are just as critical to learning. They influence our attention, meaning, and memory.

If you are angry, sad, upset, worried, or silly, what do you think your learning performance would be? Now compare that to being happy, energetic, enthusiastic, or serious. People perform better when they are happier so performance in class discussions, tests, or exercises improves. Stress and emotions are factors that influence learning both positively or negatively, depending on the level of stress or emotion encountered.

Optimum Learning Experience

What is the best course design? It should include movement and repetition and we can’t let stress or emotions run wild. The idea is to design your training units with 15 minutes of lecture followed by a 40 minute interactive exercise. Alternatively, you could have interactive lectures of up to 50 minutes provided they engage the audience with questions, discussions, and other interactive methods.

But remember, don’t let people sit motionless and stare at a PowerPoint presentation for an hour. The average adult attention span is about 15 minutes, after that it becomes hard to follow new material easily.

Breaks of 5-10 minutes should be taken after every unit, followed by a review of what you just learned. If the training is over multiple days then review the past material each day the following morning. Review all of the important points at the end of the training program. Ideally we should review again after one week and then one month to ensure it sticks in long-term memory.

Training designed with these points in mind will keep the students involved, with information retained, and with increasing performance for years to come.

Learning takes place throughout your entire body. All of your senses are deeply involved in the process of learning, so there are many factors that influence learning. The entire body learns through movement and repetition but can be altered by stress and emotions. Training units should be designed with highly interactive lectures, multiple breaks, and reviews at increasing time intervals.

Want to see how it works? Attend the next ISO 9001 Internal Auditor training class to find out.