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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Learning Olympics: Humans vs. Computers?


This year we should see a new computer chip based on the biological nervous system. It will enable computers to interpret information and react accordingly. In other words, it can learn. It will also bring a new era of artificial intelligence that can see, hear, listen and speak. This technology is not based on binary logic but on an explosion in neuroscience research - information about the human brain and how it works. Last year Google researchers were able to get a machine learning an algorithm, known as a neural network, to perform an identification task without supervision. The network scanned a database of 10 million images, and in doing so trained itself to recognize cats.

This explosion in brain science is being used to design artificial intelligence, but much less to enhance learning strategies and tactics in our leadership courses and classrooms. For example we know that stress and anxiety affect brain chemistry which in turn affects our capacity to expand our awareness vs. focus on immediate threats. Yet, we still see assessment models that present participants with right/wrong answers and simulations that are prized for the ability to catch people “doing it the wrong way”.

Twenty years ago research conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership identified the ability to learn from experience as a key competency for effective emerging leaders. Either from failure or success, these individuals adjusted their behavior to insure future success. What can neuroscience teach us about productive learning environments?


There’s a lot of ‘brain research’ being presented at training and development conferences – attempts to translate a popular press level understanding of this new science into learning strategies. Clearly, there’s a big interest in neuroscience and how to use it in training and development. Nearly every learning and development conference has a key note address on this topic. The challenge is to separate real science from pseudoscience. Some of the translations from neuroscience to learning strategies may appear to be intuitive, but some take big leaps and short cuts. Ask tough questions and discriminate between good science and pseudoscience. Be a good learner.

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