Last time, in Your brain is a stage with only four actors, we discovered a little about the prefrontal cortex and looked at David Rock’s “Actors on the stage” metaphor and applied it to my son’s early driving experiences.
In this post we get down to the nitty gritty of what is going on here and how we can apply it to learning in any situation.
David Rock calls them maps; I like to think of them as modules; either way what the brain does to overcome an overcrowded stage is to start to bring together a series of complex actions into one map or module.
In our driving lesson example, within a week Matthew has already started to write a “turn right” map. This contains all the data and actions required for a successful right turn. When he needs to turn right his brain brings the “turn right” map onto his prefrontal cortex stage and everything he needs is right there. While containing a lot of complexity (think of it as a zip file), a map takes up no more space than one actor so Matthew’s prefrontal cortex “stage” is not overloaded.
As we speak he is also creating:
- a “braking to a halt” map
- a “turning left” map
- a “starting on a hill” map
- a “reversing round a corner” map (although this one needs a lot of work!!)
- and all the other maps he needs to become a competent driver.
Over time these will evolve to become his “driving around town” map, his “driving on a motorway” map maybe a “driving at night” map.
People who have been driving for some time and have experienced many different driving situations just have a “driving” map which they pull onto their stage and then filter in or out the bits relevant to their current journey and circumstances ( driving at night in snow, driving in the day in rain…)
When Matthew ( and everyone else) reaches this point we say they are unconsciously competent. They now have extra room on their stage for the “listening to the radio” map or the “having a chat with the wife” map as well as the “driving” map. (Although the “driving” map has been universally regarded as incompatible with the “talking on a mobile” map – You decide!)
Clearly using Matthew’s experiences of learning to drive and applying David Rock’s “actors on a stage” metaphor to what I saw going on makes a lot of sense and has some serious implications for how people learn to incorporate new information or skills. And it clearly shows how learning and cutting edge neuroscience are intimately linked.
- We can now demonstrate that people can only cope with a limited number of processes at one time. The latest research suggest four is as many as we can cope with. This has serious implications for the amount of information we can expect people to process during training.
- We can also now demonstrate that the “processing stuff right now” part of the brain has a life span of about twenty minutes before it needs a clear out and a rest. This again means we need to design and facilitate carefully to ensure we respect this limitation in our brain’s abilities.
My call to action this week (and this is a biggie) is:
- Read Your Brain at Work
- Spend some time with your colleagues, peers and team members and see if you can figure out what this prefrontal cortex thingy is all about and what this means for you and your team.
- And when you’re done, write to us or leave a comment and tell us why you think this application of neuroscience is one of the most important and exciting pieces of research for L&D industry in years and how you will use it to revolutionise your training in the future.
San Fransisco map image by Dollar Bin Dead man talking image by vikisuzan