TGI Newsletter Issue #45 Learning CAN be fun. Training SHOULD be fun.
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Road to the Biology of Learning - (A recommendation for Eric Kandel book entitled In Search of Memory)
We now have the ability to look at learning on a cellular level. We understand the genetics of learning, how long term memory involves protein synthesis and how synapses are strengthened to emit greater amounts of neurotransmitters from the pre-synaptic terminal. We can actual see the growth of multi synaptic connections in response to specific learning. And like most things, such knowledge took hundreds of years to acquire, and only came about though the research and experimentation of early scientific pioneers.

One such pioneer was Santiago Ramon y Cajal who, according to Eric Kandel, noble prize winning neuroscientist, "laid the foundation for the modern study of the nervous system and is arguably the most important brain scientist who ever lived". Strong words from the author of In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind and the individual credited with giving us much of our current biological understanding of short and long term memory. Ramon y Cajal, born in 1852, is considered the Father of Neuroscience and has helped us to understand how nerve cells in the brain look and function. Prior to his work many believed that the brain was actually comprised of a freely communicating nerve net versus individual cells. Ramon y Cajal established that the neuron is the elementary signaling unit of the nervous system, that the axon of one neuron communicates with the dendrite of other nerve cells, and that the signals travelled in one direction. In 1906, Ramon y Cajal shared the Noble Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Camillo Golgi. Golgi developed the silver staining solution that allowed Ramon y Cajal to see and understand how nerve cells function. Oddly enough Golgi disagreed with Ramon y Cajal, and used the Noble Prize Award ceremony as occasion to attack Ramon y Cajal's famous Neuron Doctrine.

Charles Sherrington (1857 1952) a great supporter of Santiago Ramon y Cajal later discovers that neurons can be inhibitory as well as excitatory. Sherrington studying the kneecap reflex finds neurons that extend the limb are excitatory while neurons that flex the limb are inhibitory. In 1859, Hermann von Helmholtz succeeded in measuring the speed at which electrical impulse travel through our nervous system, approximately 90 feet per second.

In 1920 Edgar Douglas Adrian managed to record action potentials (neuronal electrical signals) propagated along the axons of sensory neurons. He discovers that these impulses do not denigrate over distances, and fire in an "all or none" manner, so that when you stub your toe your brain fully realizes the exact measure of pain you should be feeling. Julius Bernstein discovers how the permeable membrane of a nerve cell can cause ionic concentrations inside and outside of the cell to change and generate electrical impulses to travel down the axon to the pre-synaptic terminal.

In 1939, Hodgkin and Huxley, working with the enormous axon found in the giant squid, explained the very origin of action potentials, the key signal for conveying information about sensations, thoughts, emotions, and memory from one area of the brain to another. In 1949 C.P. Duncan applies electrical stimuli to the brains of animals shortly after brief training causing convulsion. Duncan discovers that such disruption causes retrograde amnesia or loss of memory. However producing seizure several hours after the training does not influence recall. Much later Louis Flexner at the University of Pennsylvania discovers that drugs which inhibit protein synthesis in the brain also disrupt long term memory, inferring that long term memory storage requires the synthesis of proteins.

This brings us up to 1961 when Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod of the Institut Pasteur in Paris publish a paper entitled "Genetic Regulatory Mechanisms". They teach us that our genes can be turned on and off just like a light switch. Almost every gene in our entire genome is represented in every cell of our body. Skin cells in our little pinky finger, of course, perform different functions than cells in our brain (which of course has nothing to do with my wife's accusation that I have little more brain than could fit into her pinky finger). This is because different stuff is turned off and on in regard to the genes found in various locations throughout our bodies.

Eric Kandel successfully uses the enlightened learning provided by the above scientist and others to discover the cellular elements of learning. For example, Kandel knew from Flexner's work that long term memory requires protein synthesis. He also knew how genes found in neuronal cells can be turned on or become activated to synthesize proteins from the science of Jacob and Monod. Could it be, questioned Kandel, that creating a long term memory is, in any way similar, to the genetic process of replicating a new skin cell? It's much more complicated than this, but this is the general gist! In 1986, Kandel published a conceptual review entitled "The Long and Short of Long Term Memory" to explain the way long term memory works. A synapse stimulated repeatedly by some sort of sensory learning sends a signal to the nucleus of the neuron where regulatory genes are turned on. Regulatory genes turn on Effector genes, which in turn, synthesize proteins and promote the growth of additional synaptic connections For a complete understanding of all the amazing past science as well as Kandel's explanation of how we learn I would like to recommend his book entitled In Search of Memory.

Famous Quotes
"We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals."
— Stephen Covey

"Want to learn to eat a lot? Here it is: Eat a little. That way, you will be around long enough to eat a lot."
— Tony Robbins

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."
— Albert Einstein

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Does Training Make a Difference?
by Saikiran Srinivas Murthy trainer with Hewlett Packard, Bangalore India

Can we turn our participants into learning magnets who can't seem to wait to attend their next training session? Yes, absolutely. Do we expect improved performance in their work as a result of the time and energy that we invest in training? Definitely. We just need to pay a little attention to the following:
a. The trainer who is presenting the training
b. The way the training is presented
c. The role that we expect from our participants.

I believe what our trainees do during training sessions makes all the difference to training transfer to the workplace.

As trainers, we need to put forth ideas to address complaints from participants about training (i.e. "It's a waste of time," "It's not interesting," "anything I learn in training cannot be applied in my job role," etc.) and spark improved performance in their respective job roles. Here are a few ways to make this happen effectively:

Tip ONE: The trainer makes the difference
Many participants react favorably to trainers who are experts at content or have experience in their industry. They appreciate trainers who have experienced and addressed the issues and situations highlighted in training. The closer the trainer can link the training to participant real life experience, the better for training transfer, the application of the information later on the job.

Tip TWO: Present training as a part of a consistent message from the organization
Our delivery in classes should build on each other and reinforce content learned in the previous sessions of training. Too many organizations around the world approach training as a potpourri or rather a menu of available sessions. However when there is no connected link between respective training sessions, these organizations lose the opportunity of reinforcing the basic skills and approaches. The important fundamental in training is that we must reference earlier sessions, draw parallels and most of all reinforce content previously learned.

Tip THREE: Provide training in "CHUNKS" scheduled over a time period
It is a proven fact that our trainees learn more in sessions that provide small amounts of content based on well defined objectives. Chunking sessions allows candidates to understand faster and apply the content learned between training sessions. It is important that the content of training and their application are reinforced at each subsequent session allowing candidates to discuss their successes and difficulties.

Tip FOUR: Train the attendees in skills and content that are immediately applicable for their job
The common saying, "USE IT or LOSE IT," is particularly true in training. Even with strategic skills such as performance feedback and team building, set up situations in which practice is immediate and frequent to help the attendees retain the content covered.

Tip FIVE: Positive and productive tone
How the trainer starts the session and begins managing the various expectations in training is an all important skill, however every opening should stress on "WIIFM" (What's in it for me) . The trainer must emphasize the value of the session and the value of information provided during the training. I would like to iterate one important point here, the trainer needs to ensure all objectives are realistic and achievable and should not "over-promise."

Tip SIX: Use of session pre-work during actual training
I have used several techniques across my training career in HP, however the best that gave the desired results was to distribute a list of focus questions prior to the training event. Attendees were instructed to answer the questions in this list as completely as possible and to keep the answers private. Once the trainees arrive to the training room, I would write down the following on the board: "Feel free to discuss your answers."

After a substantial period of discussion, I then continue the training. I found that when the attendees are given a topic of discussion and allowed to discuss it before the start of the training session, the topic was better understood and retained.

TIP SEVEN: Use of learning styles
When trainers realize and recognize that different activities appeal to participants' varied learning styles, and teach using a variety of methods, the session yields better results. Try to use an amalgam of real life examples, group discussions, presentations, experiential exercises, case studies, audio and visual aids, and simple analogies. Keep your training varied, exciting and stimulating so that you help delegates retain the knowledge.

Tip EIGHT: Increase the trainee investment in the session using Action Tasks

The trainer should provide easy ways for the participants to take notes, jot down ideas and discussions. Such "Active Learning" tasks help ensure that trainees understand and retain the knowledge imparted.

TIP NINE: Provide reference materials and job aids
Providing the right job aids is very important in a training session. Most of the manuals I have seen have either too much information and are hundreds of pages in size, or not enough. It is crucial that manuals and job aids are well refined to suit the needs of the training session. Manuals or Job Aids should not only contain information but also suggestions, ideas and tips that were discussed during the training session. The trainer should also take note of the ideas and discussions to include them in the next manual to improve training content.

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