Dr Phil Rutherford
Your Brain - Use It Or Lose It
 
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Experienced trainers know the importance of understanding the role that cognition plays in learning and development. But how many know that the brain can rewire itself to adjust to any experiences and create neural pathways which contribute to learning?


Over the past twenty years there have been many exciting advances in our understanding of how the brain works. Research which has contributed to these advances has also provided many signposts to guide trainers and training developers who are really serious about developing their people, and not just stuffing their heads full of information which might or might not be useful.

For many years I have been trying to unlock the secrets to why some people are so fixed in their beliefs and attitudes that they are almost blind to anything new. I have worked with many groups who are so stuck in their ways that any new knowledge or skills seemed to come as a threat, something to be rejected at all costs.
 
Something else I have tried to understand, and something which actually got me on the path to undertaking my Ph.D, was the question of why some organisations who spend countless thousands of dollars on training somehow end up going broke, while those who spend very little on formal training quite often are very successful. We see this time and again when some of this country's heaviest investors in vocational education and training end up closing their doors while those which invest less in training (but a lot in how they manage knowledge) are doing very well.
 
What I found is that there is a very simple answer: It is all in the way we use our brain - or our common sense as others like to put it.
 
It is as simple as that.
 
Not being the world's best salesman (in fact I'm pretty damn hopeless at it), I have found it frustrating trying to get my message across to others. I have met all kinds of resistance, from heated arguments to downright rudeness (such as sitting in the training room reading a paper while I'm trying to present a course). I used to think this was all my fault until I learned about Neuroplasticity, that is the way the brain really works and how previous learning can create neural pathways which can be very stubborn when it comes to shifting them.
 
This is an exciting area of discovery. In retrospect it clearly highlights why some of my programs have been an immense success and why I have had trouble working with other students. I am now using these lessons in shaping whole communities and organisations.
 
Watch this space!!

  

UPDATE  UPDATE  UPDATE 

 Isn't it amazing. It appears that the more I read the more I understand what I already know. I used to think that I was the only person who believed that the more you live, learn, and apply your skills within a certain paradigm, the harder it is to adopt ideas from outside its confines. For example, while working with the armed forces I became more and more convinced that the reason why I could get no traction on certain ideas or issues was because I was looking at the problem from outside the box, while those I was trying to convince were only capable of looking at it from the confines of the box. Like when one takes a potted plant and on removing it from its pot finding that the roots have curled around themselves into a tight mass, so too have been the tightly held onto beliefs and ideas of the military. Once out of the pot the roots could break free and spread. The question was, how to get these roots free of the pot, particularly when it was these roots which created, and tightly held onto, the pot in the first place.

Anyway, this was one of the concepts that I felt that I alone have been struggling with, but it turns out that like many good ideas this issue has been attracting attention right around the world. Research into neuroplasticity reveals that not only has my intuition been correct but that there are also ways in which such thinking can be changed.

Dr Norman Doidge (The Brain That Changes Itself) and Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (The Woman Who Changed Her Brain) are just two authors who reveal the successes achieved through individuals rewiring their thinking processes and learning better ways to learn. Both show through research and experience that the way we think and act is linked directly to the way our brains are wired. If we continuously think one way then our brains will find it difficult to let us think any other way. Parents know this, which is why they tell us that it is wrong to constantly criticise young children because they will grow up thinking only negative thoughts about themselves. Motivational experts tell us the same thing: Think positive and you will act positive, believe and you will achieve, and so on. These are not old-wives tales or money-making hocus pocus, but scientifically proven truths.

After more research it became apparent that there are many lessons here for trainers and vocational educators. Particularly in the way we structure our training events to challenge age old paradigms and out-dated thinking. You see time and time again we come across examples of organisations more appropriately structured to take advantage of the skills and knowledge that people bring to their work, where the purpose and philosophies (ie, the Vision and Mission) behind the organisation determines the functions required to achieve the most ideal future. But regardless of how idealistic our training is, if the tired old Taylorist thinking which runs the organisation doesn't reflect new ideas then the roots of change will be like the potted plant.  

If trainers and vocational educations are dedicated to the concept of making learning real and relevant then they must frame all of their efforts around first removing the plant from its confines and freeing the roots. Only then will real results be achieved.

 

 

 

More updates

Since beginning my research into Neuroplasticity, and the impact of these theories have on learning and development, it has become clear that one of the reasons why there are so many barriers to the message I'm trying to get across is because many people are so ingrained with their current narrow view of vocational education and training that they can't assimilate any new ideas about it.

I tried this idea out during a couple of projects I was managing with the military where training and education is consistently based within the confines of what is already known, taught in ways which are comfortable and familiar, to people who are quite often hesitant about adopting anything new or unique. From the outside observer's perspective it was like watching an upright washing machine: Everything tumbled and rolled around and around, but it did so within an extremely restricted space. And while everything came out clean, nothing really changed.

The same happens in organisations - public and private - in which training and development is conducted using the same models that have always been used.

So, do the ideas behind Neuroplasticity and learning work? I am totally convinced that they do. I would encourage everyone to consider why their organisation has never progressed, and then look very closely at the way in which learning and development is carried out. If it is the same old programs, taught the same old way, by and to the same old people, then it is guaranteed that nothing will change.

As a very wise person once said: You cannot expect things to change when you apply the same thinking which created them.

Think about it.

 

 


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