While a number of enterprises have recognized learning and development as a core function of their organization, most L&D initiatives end up paying almost no dividends. The culprit is learning retention.
Despite the fact that businesses across the globe report spending over $130 billion every year on professional learning, most skills learnt are lost within an year of learning. Grim stats right?
Quite recently, a lot of work has been done on understanding the role that brain science plays in increasing learning retention. In trying to understand how we can increase the stickiness of learning in today’s fast paced world, we invited Dr. Britt Andreatta in the latest episode of our very own podcast – The Digital Adoption Show.
Dr. Britt has over 30 years of experience and is an internationally recognized thought leader who creates brain science-based solutions for today’s challenges. She is the CEO and President at 7th Mind Inc. and also former Chief Learning Officer at Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning). Currently at 7th Mind Inc., Britt has been drawing on her unique background in leadership, neuroscience, psychology, and learning, to unlock the best in people and organizations.
Excerpts from the Podcast
What actually inspired you and what are you trying to showcase through the series of books you’ve authored?
The first book Wired to Grow, which I just updated and released a second edition of, was an accidental journey. I started researching the neuroscience of learning just so I could be better at my craft. So here I was Chief Learning Officer at Lynda, and I was really intrigued by brain science. So I just studied it, well, for me. Then I did a presentation to the employees at Lynda and they advised me to record it and put it in a book. So that was my first book. And then right after that is when LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com. So we were in the middle of this massive change. Now, I’m certified in all the change models and I teach them. And it was then that I realized that all of them were wrong, that they were not helping when you’re actually in the middle of a big change. So I thought, well, what does brain science have to say about change. So I went back in and researched that and then that became a book [Wired to Resist].
The natural next place to go was teams [Wired to Connect] because we do so much of our work in teams. And then I just did a refresh of Wired to Grow because neuroscience is moving so fast that what was true five years ago has already shifted a little bit so I just released a totally updated and expanded Wired to Grow second edition that came out this summer.
So, the whole change management made you write Wired to Resist. What would be your next focus?
Now I’m building learning solutions. So what’s coming out in 2020 is my brain based manager training. And I’m going to have a series of six sessions that are all focused on helping managers bring out the best in, and others, really using biology and brain science ass of the base. And then in 2021, the new book will come out, that’s going to be on the brain science of purpose and innovation. And then probably after that, I’ll refresh Wired to Resist, surrounding the concept of change management, because by then it’ll be I think, four years old. So I’ll probably be in a cycle of every three or four years refreshing my books, but I am alwaysalways am so curious. I’m going to be writing new stuff in the middle of this as well.
You mentioned that you’re a big time researcher, so I’m sure there’s plenty that you can give out to all the L&D professionals out there.
My followers are mostly L&D and HR professionals and I really love working with them. My goal is to just give them the tools they need to really be successful because they’re already doing the work of upleveling the skill of the people in their organization.
How did you get yourself into brain science?
Well, it’s interesting. I have a PhD in education, leadership and organizations and when doing my doctoral work, so I’ve always been studying that I was studying the intersection between leadership and learning. But neuroscience wasn’t really a field back then when I was doing my studies. Fast forward, I’m a working adult, now and I lived through a traumatic childhood and I was seeking therapy as an adult because I started having panic attacks. And as I was working with my therapist, they were teaching me about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that it’s our biology that can cause these old scars and old wounds to trigger us and have us freaking out in our present situation, even though we’re safe. And so that was really kind of the beginning of someone introducing me to brain science, but because I’m a scholar, and I’m not intimidated to go into the research journals and read scholarly papers, I started digging in and learning more on my own because it just really intrigued me.
There is a TED talk you gave a while back about how our human wiring to survive and belong can hijack our success both professionally and personally. I’m sure a lot of it comes from your experiences across the years. How did you actually come aboard with the whole TED talk about Amygdala hijacking for success?
So I learned about the amygdala hijack in my own personal journey. And I was using it to kind of help myself understand when I might be triggered and when I got triggered and the kind of fight or flight response that was going off in my body, learning how to kind of manage it better. But at the same time, I’m also an executive coach and consultant, I’m working with organizations and I realized that it was impacting people from all backgrounds and all levels of success. So I found myself teaching people on a regular basis what amygdala hijacks are and what it means to have our hot buttons pushed. When that happens– when our fight flight freeze response takes over,– it literally takes our logical thinking brain offline. It also removes our sense of self awareness, which is why you can have a normally calm, wonderful person do really dumb things when they’re in that state. And I started seeing it everywhere and I found myself teaching people about it. So, you know, I realized, wow, if I consider that TED Talk, like, if I only get this opportunity to speak to a lot of people one time in my life–,if then this is my 15 minutes and what do I want to do with it–. and I thought, the one thing we all need to know, is this thing about how we’re wired to have the amygdala hijack. That was a really important message. I recorded it a few years ago, but it stands the test of time because our biology just does not change that much.
Have you been exploring more different topics like the amygdala hijack? Are there any similar topics that you generally speak on?
You know, through all of my talks, you’re going to find the theme of brain science and the one thing I say in every talk and every book is, if you remember nothing else, remember this about humans: we’re wired to do three things–survive, belong, and become. Let me tell you a little bit more about each of those. Survival is what you think it is. It’s our need for food, water shelter. And when people are going through a situation like a hurricane or a geopolitical strife of some kind, you’ll see how much that becomes so pressing for people to find the basic needs of survival. But for most of us, we have jobs, our lives are pretty good. So how survival shows up is in performance reviews, or when we’re getting feedback from our boss, because our paycheck is how we buy food, water and shelter. So organizations can actually kind of stir up people’s survival stuff. Anything that has to do with your ability to keep a job, move ahead, get opportunities professionally, that’s going to hit survival. Our next core need is to belong. And this is because we’re very much a tribal species. And it’s because it’s tied to survival. We were much more likely to survive back in the day, and even today, by living in groups and looking out for each other. And if we were ousted from a group, we were much more likely to be killed by a lion or something else wherever we lived in the world. And so entire components of our biology are dedicated to helping us know how to read emotions in others and how to collaborate with others, and also how to sense when we’re being excluded, because that’s going to put us more in danger to be ousted from the tribe and not survive. And, finally, it is our need to become our best selves that’s probably our deepest need. We are a species of seekers that is always seeking to grow and improve. When we achieve something we celebrate for a minute, and then we create a whole new goal. So becoming our best selves is tied to our need to learn and grow and be our best, whatever that looks like. And so what’s funny is when I work with organizations, they say, yes, we want everyone to show up their best selves and do their best work and I say, great, then stop reorging them every six months, you know, stop messing with their performance reviews. You’re triggering all their survival and belonging stuff, and you can’t get them there to that higher level state if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing on those other levels.
“As humans, we’re wired to do three things–survive, belong and become.”
How are companies working on digital adoption?
Any digital adoption is a form of change. Our body sees change first as potential danger. Once we get enough information and see that there’s going to be an opportunity where I might gain something as opposed to lose something that matters to me, then we can settle down and get on board with the change. But at first, biologically we’re wired to do a lot of resistance to change. And I think leaders get surprised by this. And they expect everyone to be super excited when they announce the new digital adoption, for example, and everyone starts complaining. But they’re just being human, they’re just being normal. Eventually, they’ll settle down and get on board with it. But as a leader, if you understand the biology of resistance, you can first of all be prepared for it. And second of all, you can do a lot to lessen it or shorten it. You cannot make it go away entirely because it is a biological process, but you can do a lot to make it easier for people to get on board with change. And so a lot of my change solutions, for example, really help leaders think through and prepare and give them strategies for helping people move through the inevitable resistance faster and get on board and adapted to the change faster.
I saw the three phase model of learning that you introduced through your books–learn, remember and do. At Whatfix, we preach something similar–that’s learning by doing or learning the flow of work. So I’m really curious about how your three phase model compares against learning by doing and how does “learn, remember, do” pan out in real time scenarios for businesses?
My model, the three phase model of learning is where we look at all the brain science of how the brain actually learns. If you think about it, learning happens, first when we have to take that information in. So the first phase is learn. And however that goes, whether it’s done well or it’s done poorly, it’s how the information first comes into our brain. The second phase is remember. So if that learning doesn’t get pushed into the long term memory so that we can access it for weeks or years to come, then that learning is a waste of time. It’s like it didn’t even happen. So we also have to think about whether we can design learning events so that they actually go into memory. And then finally, most professional learning has to do with behavior change. So I’m really focused on the kind of learning that happens in our workplaces. And there’s really no learning that we roll out where we’re not trying to get someone to do something differently, either be a better manager or use software differently. So inevitably, when you’re changing behavior, we’re talking about changing habits. And it’s really thinking about: what are the words and actions you want to see people doing and making sure your learning event is truly getting them on a path to do that in the way that you want. What I see in a lot of learning events is a disconnect. There’ll be a great event, but it’s not really driving behavior change. Or they’re going after specific behavior change but they’re not actually giving people the right tools to ultimately do it successfully. So my goal is to help people who design learning events for others to really get clear. In professional learning a big part of how we learn is by doing it and we can’t get around that. You can sit in a room and listen to information until you’re blue in the face. But unless you get up and start doing it, you have not yet formed a neural pathway in your own body. And that’s how we get people to true behavior change.
” Inevitably, when you’re changing behavior, we’re talking about changing habits. It’s about focussing on the words and actions you want to see people doing to making sure your learning event is truly getting them on a path to do what in the way that you want.”
Let’s say an organization decides to adopt this model of learning. So their next area focus should be designing and effectively delivering these models to clients. What would you recommend as the best practices during this stage?
Good learning aligns with how the brain naturally learns. Our brain is a learning machine. It’s how we move through the world and it has been for eons since humans first started walking around. So it’s really about aligning with that. Our attention span wanes after 20 minutes. So why fight that? Try to build learning into chunks of 15 to 20 minute segments followed by a processing activity that not only drives behavior change, but also then pushes that learning into memory. Learning is longer lasting if you can attach it to something that the learner already knows. Scientists call these schemas. So what you want to do is think about–how can I attach this new thing I want them to know, to something that they’re already doing and they’re already aware of? So I use a lot of metaphors. For example, my change training is built around the metaphor of hiking or mountain climbing, because even if you’ve never done it, you know what it is. So then I attach everything to the schema in their brain that I know everyone in the room already has some familiarity with. And then finally, you know, if we want to change behavior, we have to give people time to practice. It takes 40 to 50 repetitions of a behavior to form a habit in the brain. And yet, most learning events don’t even involve any practice let alone enough practice. So I’m encouraging my tribe to start really shifting how you think about learning, so that, maybe people get the information in a pre-learning event, and then you spend the time in the room having them actually do it 5, 6, 10 times. And this is especially true with digital adoption–give people the opportunity to wire that new behavior. It’ll make the whole transition go faster and better if you’re helping them get there.
The major catalyst for driving success, especially for this model of learning and development will be fostering a change in the mindset of our learners, right? How do you actually go about instigating this change? I’m sure there is a framework which you have already mentioned before, but then how do managers actually instigate this change?
Well, so you’re asking two different questions. So let me answer it on two different levels. If we’re thinking about creating change in our learners, most learning events are designed by someone in the L&D or talent management space. So I think the most important thing is usually when someone decides that learning needs to happen, it’s because something’s not working. They want to change a number of some kind. And that’s a great reason. But it’s coming from above. And if you really want to get your learners to change, the learning experience has to matter to them. It has to address a real need they have, it has to help them with a real pain point. And what I see is that learning is often designed by the leaders of the organization with their own agendas. And while that matters, if you also don’t address the learners need, they’re just going to sit there and be bored, they’re going to be disconnected from it, and they might even actively resist it. So I always feel like when I’m designing learning I’m not only finding out what the leader wants, I go and meet a few of the learners and I find out what they need, and then I design for something that does both. The other thing you need to do is you have to meet your learners where they’re at. So whatever level of knowledge or skill or acceptance they have, you’ve got to meet them where they’re at. And then your journey has to take them. So if they’re really resistant to something I might build at the beginning of the learning solution a lot of the why– why are we doing this and what could be the gains for you–so I get them on board before we really get into the content. So with just a little more thoughtfulness and a little bit more time on the front end, you can design these things so that when you actually deliver, people are really excited. And I’ve seen that time and again. The second question you ask is, “How do managers get employees excited for change?” You know, it’s a little bit of a different issue. So let’s say a change is announced and the manager has to get their team on board with it. You know, it’s a couple things: it’s first of all, preparing yourself knowing that there is going to be resistance, even if you do an awesome job. It’s just a biological process. But part of it is letting people move through their own concerns about what they’re going to lose. And then continually telling them what the opportunities are: showing them what they can gain, giving them the why of the change, breaking it into manageable steps, and then marketing and celebrating progress along the way. There’s a lot that managers can do to really help engage people in change and get them excited about it and doing it in a really wonderful way.
What is the motivation behind creating these courses on LinkedIn Learning?
What’s interesting is I was hired by Lynda Weinman, the co founder of lynda.com. She and her husband founded it. I was hired to be the chief learning officer for the employees. And so I started doing the work with the managers and the employees to help them be better at their jobs. But the impact was so positive and so immediate that we recorded the content to put in the library. And the audience was responding really positively. And then the sales and the marketing team started having me share my ideas with other senior learning leaders. And I began speaking at conferences, and it all just took off from there.
To this day, my courses are still used by the employees of LinkedIn Learning and LinkedIn in general, as well as organizations around the world. It’s really sweet. I get LinkedIn messages all the time. Every day, I get several from people around the world that have just watched one of my courses and are reaching out and I just feel…I love the power of this medium that I can reach people that I’ll never meet in real life, and that we can have a connection like that.
We want to understand how you actually explore or tackle challenges for digital adoption.
I think it’s really important to do your homework. Some solutions are best suited to certain conditions, or even organization size. You don’t always discover that when you’re first looking at something. So you’ve really got to do your homework and find out. Does this really work in the long run, right, or behind the scenes? You also need to consider how various things need to play together and be sure to explore compatibility, because sometimes a solution, while it looks great and it seems to have all the bells and whistles, actually doesn’t play with another core part of your business. You also need to do thorough reference checks to make sure that the organization you’re hiring has successfully done what they are bidding for you. Because sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve done that.” But they haven’t really. Insist on speaking to some of their customers; make sure you really vet them. And also ask the tough questions when you’re talking to those customers, like “How did it really go? Were there any problems along the way? Did you feel, really, like they had the expertise needed to help you through this? Were there any problems that showed up later?” You know, those kinds of questions because, oftentimes people will only tell you the bad stuff if you ask for it directly. Otherwise, they’re not going to feel like they want to throw someone under the bus. So if you do your homework, then you should be in a better position to really be able to advocate for the adoption that you want to make and line it up so that it rolls out successfully.
What are your favorite books that you would recommend to all those who are listening to this podcast?
Well, two books that really changed my perspective. The first one was Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, it blew my mind, about the future of where organizations are going and how human consciousness is shifting, and that is also shifting our organizations. Last year, I read Altered Traits by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, and it’s all about the neuroscience of mindfulness. And that one also was just incredibly powerful. If you’ve followed any of my work, you know that I’ve kind of woven mindfulness into some of it because I myself have just been so shifted by it.
The future of L&D and HR is constantly changing. And so what are the new technologies in L&D that you are rooting for?
It’s virtual reality. When I was doing the research on my update to Wired to Grow, I was just really blown away by what the brain does with virtual reality. It codes the virtual reality experience as a lived memory, which is a game changer. So now we can film a work setting and then put people in the headsets and they’re getting real…their body is gaining real memories of being there and doing certain behaviors. Now virtual reality is not the solution to everything but it’s really useful for helping people develop, for example, emotional connection or empathy. It’s also helpful for them learning spatial things. And also developing habits, when getting a certain number of habits under your belt can really escalate or scale that learning forward, particularly if doing it in real time is dangerous or hard to do financially. So I think everyone should be thinking about their VR strategy and really taking a look at some of the providers.
Among the courses that you’ve created on lynda.com or rather LinkedIn Learning, which are your favorites and a “must listen” for our audience?
I think leading with emotional intelligence is a skill that everyone needs. And it applies to you, no matter what kind of career you’re in, or what level of your career, so that one’s a good one for everyone to watch. And then, I do have a course on organizational learning and development, and also creating a culture of learning. There’s a small suite of courses specifically for people in the talent management or HR space. So if you’re in that space, I think those can be really useful. I share all of my best tips and tricks, so that might be of use to you.
Perfect, so anybody with LinkedIn Premium can check this out and LinkedIn Learning.
As an influencer in the space, I’m sure there are many who you look up to as well, right? Who are they?
I’m inspired by so many people from a lot of different disciplines. You know, some that comes to mind, Jennifer Brown and Vernā Myers are doing really great work on diversity and inclusion. And ever since I wrote the book on the brain science of teams, it’s clear to me that we all need to be paying attention to inclusion; it’s super important. Amy Edmondson’s work–she’s at Harvard–her research on psychological safety has really influenced me. So I think that’s something we should all be looking to. In terms of L&D, I think Karl Kapps’s work on gamification is really impressive. And of course, I’m really into the mindfulness thing. So I follow Richard Davidson’s studies. He’s the one that’s putting meditators on MRI machines, and he’s really taking a neuroscience perspective about…what are the benefits of mindfulness and how does it really work in our brains? And it’s changed my life. I’m now a meditator as a result of his research.
What is one word or phrase that comes to your mind when we say digital adoption and transformation?
Ongoing, never ending. One might say relentless. You know, I think technology is changing so fast and furious. It’s just always driving change, right? And so, we need to get used to it because it’s kind of the new normal, but I feel like it’s the kind of thing where we just can’t ever settle down. It’s going to be shifting, so embracing that it’s an ongoing journey and then kind of getting comfortable with that.
For all the audience who may have questions on brain science and the L&D ideas that you have given, and even the managerial ideas, how can they reach you?
If you’re looking for a digital adoption solution to streamline a digital adoption across your enterprise applications, then do check out whatfix.com. We have something really interesting there for you.
And also, you can download a free copy of Britt’s new book, Wired to Grow: Harness the Power of Brain Science to Learn and Master Any Skill right here. Also, you get a chance to access a free 30-day trial to LinkedIn Learning to help you start training your teams the right way!