Enlisting the Unconscious Mind

Four Ways To Make Sure A Learner’s Whole Brain Fully Embraces The Learning Process

I’m usually asked to design training to improve performance, but I rarely get to refine and move the program forward as a true opportunity to change human behavior. So here are four ways to enlist the help of the learners’ unconcious mind and possibly maximize development:

1) Plant and load – We can place ideas in learners’ subconcious by asking them not to think about them. Then when they are placed under a heavy mental load, these ideas inevitably surface. We are effectively assigning to the unconcious, a monitoring task: “watch out for these ideas.” In so doing, we store those monitoring programs and in times of heavy mental load, they are disrupted and actually generate the idea. This approach is easily seconded to learning design, by setting out some rules or conditions that learners are explicitly instructed not to think about, then have them complete an intense activity, to which those rules are relevant. They will remember them and apply them.

2) Johari window – A classic theory suggests a pathway for learners in moving the aquisition of new skills and knowledge from the unconscious to the conscious mind. This approach is incredibly useful for structuring pathways to mastery and even in developing train-the-trainer-based courses, because it recognizes the different stages of learning and the interplay between conscious and unconscious mind.

3) Mirroring – By modeling the actions and behaviors we wish learners to aquire (assuming they have at some point executed those behaviors previously), their brains respond as if they were actually doing it themselves. You might say their conscious mind is observing us acting a certain way, but their unconscious actually thinks they are doing it. This is important for reinforcement. Knowing that learners’ unconscious minds think they are doing it, not watching it, offers us a new perspective on this old technique.

4) Fast, better decisions – Several studies suggest that the unconcious mind is better at decision making than the conscious mind in some circumstances. Conscious minds can over-analyze multifactorial situations, actually impeding our ability to make good or accurate decisions. Our unconscious minds are able to encompass and integrate more factors, but they also impose lots of bias.

If we were to mitigate these biases by making learners aware of them up front and give them some tools and techniques to make snap decisions, we may help them make better decisions within specific domains. Then give them more complex examples and more time to ponder — trust or not trust — and have them explore their bias and their conscious milti-factorial analysis.

—The author is a learning consultant based in Australia. Check out his Website
(www.elearningconsultant.com.au) or e-mail him at david@elearningconsultant.com.au.

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