Monday, November 18, 2013

May I Be Excused My Brain is Full

Garry Larson in his insightful Far Side cartoon has a picture of a student in a classroom saying, "Please may I be excused as my brain is full."  As a farmer in a fast changing world, I often feel this way. The increased complexity of today's farm environment means that effective and timely learning is essential to support successful farm businesses.

Dr. Lila Davachi and Tobias Kiefer, with Booz & Company have studied the adult learning environment and their findings have led to the acronym AGES, which stands for:
  • Attention
  • Generation
  • Emotion
  • Spacing
Let's talk about the implications of their research on learning for farmers and other training environments.


People pride themselves on their ability to multi-task. Dr. Amy Arnsten at Yale has studied the impact on divided attention and concluded that multi-tasking minimises the effectiveness for the current task and also diminishes ability for other tasks. So multi-tasking can lead to the "my brain is full" mental bottleneck. Being able to focus is one of the keys to learning. Excellent vehicles for focused learning are reading books, listening to on-line content and seminars in areas of interest.


Farms are a great laboratory for trial of new ideas and learning. We pick some new and sometimes "weird ideas" to try every season. These new ideas help to consolidate our learning process and generate our own unique ideas from the original base of learned material. This is the idea of generation. If the learning moves from head knowledge to practice and then to specific application in our unique situation. Then generation has taken place. This is my personal favorite of the AGES framework. (As you probably guessed, the weird ideas are my own interpretation.)


Emotional links to learning will support a strong memory of the subject material. Dr, Evian Gordon talks about the brain organizing principle as "minimizing threat and maximizing reward", in that order. Maximum learning occurs when associations are positive and negative associations are minimized. So strong emotion can effect the learning process. The more positive the emotion the more likely learning will be retained.


The research also shows that timing and spacing between learning events enhances learning. The brain takes time to hard-wire the the new knowledge. So a weekly seminar to learn a farm topic would more strongly reinforce the subject material than a weekend seminar in which all the information is shared at once. The research shows that the best way to ensure long-term encoding and retrieval was to have breaks between learning sessions and then to test recall at the start of the next learning session. The effort involved in recall at the later time increased the retention of learning. Testing was key to the retention.

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