If you had to sit your final HSC exams today, would you pass?  I wouldn’t. Then again, it’s a matter of public record that I was a poor student. But you get my point – how much ‘stuff’ do we actually retain? Further, how much stuff actually worth knowing remains in the active part of our brain?

Even though, since you left high school or graduated university, you’ve probably written countless important business documents, devised critical strategies and been involved in numerous key business decisions that have positively shaped your career and those around you,  you probably couldn’t complete a Year 8 maths test!

So, what’s the point of learning about Pythagoras Theory or Oxford Comma’s?

Well, some far brighter than me say that it’s not actually about the content, it’s about the process. In very simple terms, learning ‘classic’ math theory such as algebra builds a better brain (as do other disciplines such as learning to play music or learn a new language) because when the brain is stimulated it creates more connections.

When we are young, it’s all about ‘putting in the work’ to ensure you have good neural pathways when you are older. The content is almost a secondary concern.

As young adults, the ‘useless’ stuff we learned at school actually serves us well because it has laid the foundations for us to start using more of our brain.

A good example I read recently is that an 11 year old can likely list far more trivial details about what happened in Harry Potter book, such as the colour of a broom or the name of a specific creature, over an adult who reads the same book. Yet the adult will be far better at explaining abstract concepts about the relationships and metaphors in Harry Potter’s world which an 11 year old simply cannot grasp. It’s because abstract theories connect different sides of the brain. They combine emotion, order and logic (frontal lobe) with processing and environment (parietal). As adults, we almost trade one form of learning for another.

So, in our working lives, how do we ensure our staff are equipped to absorb key facts as well as use emotion and common sense when dealing with customers and colleagues.

To me, teens and adults learn best when we have context – this applies to learning a new skills as much as it does to learning about Keats or Coleridge or some other long dead poet at school.

As a trainer and someone who has spent years in the learning sector, ‘context’ involves two things – hands-on experience combined with real life experiences. It’s about forming connections in your brain that you can relate to.

Whenever we develop a training strategy for a business, design training modules or write content for any platform, we pay specific attention to the context. What are the key attributes of the target audience, what are typical life experiences they’ve had that have moulded their attitudes, opinions and reactions?  These ‘adult’ influences are equally important as how many equal sides there are on an isosceles triangle .

We’ve been doing it successfully for over 20 years so we must be doing something right!

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