Upgrade your Learning Ability Series:
Supercharge Your Learning Programs Now
Two tips that will supercharge your learning programs. And won’t cost you a cent.
In this series of Upgrade your Learning Ability we’re offering you evidence based tips to help you upgrade your own ability to learn better, so that you can learn faster and smarter, alongside some clever tips and tricks for supercharging learning programs for your participants.
Our two simple yet powerful tips today will help you upgrade the impact of your learning programs and come at no extra cost to provide. They arise from the science of the brain and learning and will maximize the impact of your training programs no matter your content area or delivery mode.
Tip 1: Engineer Exercise into your Learning Programs
Aerobic exercise is vital for your brain. Many brain experts tell us this, from John Medina who says exercise boosts brain power, to Dr. John J. Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain , a book in which the Harvard Medical School Clinical Professor of Psychiatry explains that regular exercise and movement can improve brain power and make you more productive. Not only can exercise impact on positive feelings of wellbeing, cognitive function like attention and memory and reduce stress levels but it can literally make you learn better. Exercise makes your brain cells bigger and better, building the brain. It is the polar opposite to a sedentary screen based existence where little exercise can ultimately shrink the brain. 
Bring movement back into learning
In spite of this last attention-focusing fact, and in spite of the activity trackers that many of us sport today, pushing us into greater daily movement, many of our learning environments remain sedentary. Consider conference theatres, webinar sessions, learning at our desks and general classroom design. We’ve engineered physical activity out of both our everyday lives and our learning. Reintroduce it and benefits will follow.
When we stand rather than sit, we liberate neurotransmitters like norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and dopamine, and when we exercise, our levels of serotonin increase. Simply put, these neuro chemicals turn on our attention system, our memory system, and our motivation system and literally help us focus, learn and retain better.
Why not consider incorporating some exercise into your learning program? At a minimum, aim to decrease overall sedentariness:
- Suggest a standing up or light movement period during a lecture or class room based workshop; set signals that will allow you end the exercise break quickly in order to continue learning. (Remember you can recommend a light movement period even within online learning.)
- The workplace has promoted a non-sedentary approach for almost a decade now and standing desks in an office space promote not just health and well-being but better productivity and learning. Consider a standing approach either in your workplace or in your learning centres. Remember however that according to some experts standing in one place for hours, say at a desk, is only marginally better than sitting at a desk for a similar period. Think about actual movement, and engineer it into work activities during the day and particularly into learning moments. A coaching session might for example, take place during a brief walk.
- Include at least one short exercise moment into each day of a training program, if you can’t manage it during the actual teaching time, require everyone to take a short walk/physical movement break at recess or lunchtime.
Tip 2: Promote Sleep as a Learning Tool
While it used to be cool to brag about how little sleep you can survive on, increasingly, science is proving the value of sleep, and, in some cases, the far-reaching negative effects of sleep deprivation. When it comes to learning and sleep, we’ve also now got science putting weight behind the sleep message. As an area of increasing interest to medics and scientists, research is revealing why sleep might be a vital ingredient for better learning.
A whistle stop tour of recent sleep science findings include:
- Your brain washes itself while it sleeps! In a study of mice, it was shown that cerebrospinal fluid in the brain increases dramatically during sleep to wash away harmful waste proteins built up between brain cells during the day.
- Shut eye is important for every part of our health including our ability to learn. Sleep before and after learning may be vital (preparing your brain for learning and helping you lay down memories for retrieval after learning).
By using these two simple no-cost hacks – engineering some exercise into your learning interventions, and explicitly promoting sleep both before and after training, you may discover some no-cost ways to enhance your own and/or your participants’ learning experience and retention.
Whether you’re participating in training as a learner, or delivering or facilitating learning, make sure your approach includes the latest science-based techniques for improving learning effectiveness. You’ll sleep easy knowing you’re using the latest science of learning!
 Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey