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Krystyna Gadd

How to Accelerate Learning


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Some great stuff about the brain for trainers from the CIPD – part 2


IMG_1054Well the plot thickens........ this gaming lark I mentioned in my last blog..... why it is all about synaptic plasticity the researchers think!

The brain can keep growing... I knew that snippet from some research done on London cabbies (1) and linguistic experts. The research shows that for London cabbies the posterior hippocampus grows as the cabbies learn more routes. This is a part of the brain associated with visual-spatial memory apparently. As new neural connections are made, the brain grows and changes, hence the term "neuroplasticity". Previously it was not thought possible that the brain could develop in later life.

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that encompasses both synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity—it refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.

Researchers have particularly been looking at the use of video gaming and the effects on the brain. They seem to think that it could be "a promising method to 'take the brakes off adult plasticity' (Bavelier et al 2010)" (2) They are not sure how it works but it has something to do with the uptake of dopamine to the midbrain.

For those of you who do not know, dopamine is the happy hormone that is released when we think we are going to get a reward (or when we are eating chocolate!!!) (3) With the right amount of dopamine, learners are engaged and wanting to participate. Too much dopamine and the learners get a bit giddy and do not really remember much about what they have learned, but love the experience.

So back to what we were talking about ...synaptic plasticity....this is the process of changing connection strengths between neutrons, which is also considered the basis of learning (Shohamy and Adcock 2010) (2). Video games are thought to be such an immersive activity and hence they heighten learning by stimulating the reward centres of the brain.

So my question, as always is "So what?". Let me put into a nutshell, what I think we need to do, to incorporate some of this brain stuff into the learning experiences we design and deliver:

  • Find out what the learners want to get out of it - their reward for attending!
  • Make the experience immersive and involve the learners, but make sure they are not over stimulated!
  • Add a competitive element to the learning, with the rewards being uncertain
  • Add some games - be child-like but not childish
  • Make your learners aware that learning does not need to diminish with age


  1. From steady state to ready state CIPD Sept 2012
  2. Fresh thinking in L&D Part 1 of 3 Neuroscience and learning
  3. "Your Brain at Work" David Rock

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Krystyna Gadd


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