Wiring and Attention

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”

-Steve Jobs

So, over the past two lunches, I have digested two more chapters in “Brain Rules.”

Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.

Medina uses the example of highways to explain how we learn. We all use highways to get to certain places, but each of us tends to take a different route, be it a short cut, something scenic, or a detour. What we do and what we learn in life will physically change the makeup of our brain. For example, violinists have unusually contorted brains as opposed to the average Joe. If you use certain parts vigorously, like any muscle, the brain will grow/change appropriately.

quoteAnother point Medina addresses is that various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people. Just as we all grow differently…some of us sprout early, some of us sprout late…so does the brain. So, it makes no sense to educated people in a lock-step system of grades that says you have to be ready cognitively for something at a specific age. It’s not going to happen. No two people’s brains store the same information in the same way in the same place—even twins. They are always standing at a different perspective.

And finally, he states that intelligence is beyond IQ tests, which as instructional designers, we all know.

To help design better instruction with this information in mind we need to consider the importance of smaller class sizes. If a person only has to focus on 20 individuals, as opposed to 50, he or she would develop a better sense of the learner and what they need to know, how they prefer to learn, and a feeling for what works. This lends itself to more customized instruction. While individualized instruction is hardly a new idea, it is hard to accomplish.

Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.

First of all, Medina says there is no such thing as multi-tasking. Studies prove it. The brain works in a linear process. Anybody who tells you that they can attend to anything all at once is lying. It’s why car crashes increase even if you are just reaching to pick something off of the passenger seat. Your brain has diverted its attention to the seat from the road. Additionally, we are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail…meaning if we get the “gist” of something, we will remember it better later.

Also, emotional arousal helps the brain learn. We’ve all heard the power of story-telling. Capture their emotions, and we will have their attention. But remember, after about 10 minutes, you will lose their attention. You need to continuously go in and rehook them and move them onto a new concept.

Medina spoke to a strategy he used for an hour-long course, where he chunked his content into the five most important concepts he wanted the students to learn. He introduced each one with a hook…something of emotion and relevance that would pull them in. Then he would teach them about this concept. After ten minutes, it was time to move onto the next one. He found that after he hooked them into the first half hour, he didn’t usually need to hook them in, but he always had one ready…just in case. (Have you ever tried this?)

In summary…

Simple things to think about that we basically already knew, but it’s important to be mindful of how people learn. All the bells and whistles in the world can engage someone, but there are practical pieces of information and strategy we need to know and apply to help people learn. Wiring and attention are important rules to know.


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