Really learning (part 3): meaning and chunking

Hello and welcome to this month’s neuro blog!

In this third – and final – blog on the topic of facilitating learning, let me build on the positive implications of harnessing emotion and of maximising attention and engage you on the themes of meaning generation and chunking. At this stage of the game, I have posited that we can support others’ learning by associating it with positive emotions (check out emotions help us learn) as well as by varying our delivery in order to keep our audience’s attention (read learning and attention).

I want to further propose that learning – the process of memorising new information and then of recalling it at will – is also helped by meaning. When discussing the impact of emotions on learning in my April blog, I mentioned anticipation as one of the positive emotions which can facilitate learning. And indeed, when we look forward to learning, we have a sense that this pending new information will add to our existing body of knowledge. It will complete it and we will feel the richer for it. We look forward to learning and to feeling good about it.

But consider the reverse: we are taught something which does not resonate. The knowledge feels disconnected: it does not help us whether at home or in the office. It might be intellectually engaging but it’s not relevant to us. We cannot imagine using it. And so: in one ear, out the other.

I therefore only design and facilitate workshops which are experiential because I mean for my audience to contextualise the information I share. I encourage a lot of story-telling and experience-sharing whereby participants in fact communicate meaningful moments which naturally make knowledge relevant.  I no longer use slides but rather invite folks to note down only what resonates. What happens is that people don’t remember exactly what I shared but they remember what the information meant to them and how they thought it might make a difference to their lives.

So: information + emotion + attention + meaning = effective learning? Nearly there, I say! My last suggestion is to break learning into bite-sized chunks, hence ‘chunking’ as a learning ingredient. We’ve all crammed. And it works: the next day, we pour out on the test page all that we stuffed ourselves with. But what remains? We don’t even need neuroscientific evidence: empirically, experientially, we know – not much. We need time to digest the information, to really connect that new data to other pieces of knowledge and expand our tool kit – and that takes time. In my view, this is where repetition adds value: revisiting the new knowledge, to assess it for utility, to embed its relevance. Practicing the new knowledge, experimenting with it, gradually applying it also requires time. This is why I prefer to work with 12 hours of coaching rather than 3 or 4 only. As well as write a series of articles rather than a lengthy essay in the context of this neuro blog of mine.

In conclusion: information + emotion + attention + meaning + chunking = effective learning.

Through emotion, attention and meaning, learners become the owners of their learning content. It feels good. I’m focussed and concentrated and eager. It resonates, it speaks to me, it’s good for me. It’ll help me to achieve something that is important to me. And through chunking, I had time to absorb it at my own pace.

If you’d like to tell me about your behaviour and/or your brain, you will find me at In the meantime, relax and let your brain look after you!

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