Learning is not overwhelming when you focus on the neuroscience of learning

brainI recently commented on a Harvard Business Review article, published on March 20, 2015, titled “When learning at work becomes overwhelming.”  The article talked about the demands on employees and management to learn as much as possible while on the job and how that can actually contribute to burnout. Here is my comment: “This is a seriously annoying and misleading post because it misses virtually everything that is known about how people learn. Instead, it seems to view learning overload as a purely organizational problem. It mystifies me how someone can write a post about learning without referring to any of the recent breakthroughs in the neuroscience of learning that address this issue very well. So let’s start in two different, but closely related places – Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of it taking 10,000 hours to become an expert in something and the primary models of learning that exist in corporations, both of which the newest science has shown are wrong. Gladwell’s argument that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert is based on several incorrect models including:  

  • – Learning derives from essentially ad hoc experiences
  • – The learner has the capability to integrate the ad hoc experiences into patterns and behaviors we call “expertise”
  This doesn’t have to be the case. Compounding Gladwell’s error is that almost all current corporate learning methodologies encourage passive learning. Content, including the content described in this post, is shoved at people, creating another set of ad hoc experiences. It is not surprising that ad hoc, passive learning can be overwhelming, but these models of learning are obsolete. In our extensive work with star performers, we discovered that star performers are strongly purpose-driven, self-directed learners who do not wait for ad hoc learning experiences, reject passive learning and drive toward comprehensive integration. They organize their learning around their purpose and specific categories of mastery, which enables them to absorb and organize vastly more content than is assumed in this post. By understanding how star performers learn and creating neuroscience-based learning programs that give people a compelling sense of purpose, a clear path to mastery and focused exercises that emulate the star’s learning processes, virtually every situation described in this post can be eliminated. HBR, you really need to get some people posting who know something about the science of learning, not this out-of-date thinking.”]]>

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