The Challenge for Your Business: Developing Talent

The ability to develop and nurture talent is a critical determinant of success. In this article, we look at the global picture and discuss learning styles and neuroscience to develop your people.

The world is changing, rapidly and your job is to make sure you get the best talent for your business. Mercers Global Talent Trends Report of 2024 sets out some of the challenges for businesses across the world.  Interestingly, “48% of HR leaders see skills shortages as a top threat to their business this year”.  The report sets out drives to improve productivity, work redesign and use of A1 as future challenges.  The report suggests the following actions to accelerate talent development in businesses.

  1. Build the business case for new ways of working.
  2. Make skills the currency of work.
  3. Increase workforce agility through fit-for-purpose job architecture and work models that enable alternative talent pools and flexible working.
  4. Incentivise productivity and share gains.

In terms of your talent development agenda, placing skills at the heart of your people strategy means you may need to take a forensic look at what your business needs in terms of both talent acquisition and growing talent from existing employees.  Your business also needs to understand how your people learn best and can work with agility in a rapidly changing world.

Enhancing Talent Development In Your Business

This article explores the intersection of neuroscience and learning styles, providing insights and practical strategies to enhance talent development within your organization. One of the first steps in effective talent development is helping your employees understand their unique learning preferences. By recognizing how they process and retain information, you can tailor development interventions to maximize their strengths and address their challenges.

Traditional Learning Models

The concept of learning styles, which suggests that individuals have preferred ways of processing information and learning new skills, has been widely discussed and debated in educational psychology. Over the decades, various learning models have been proposed, evolved, and scrutinized.  Despite their popularity, learning style theories have faced criticism, especially regarding their empirical validity. Researchers like Pashler et al. (2008) found little evidence to support that matching instructional methods to learning styles enhances outcomes. This and other research casting doubt on the efficacy of learning styles has led to calls for more rigorous, scientifically sound research before adopting learning styles-based instruction widely.

Using Learning Models To Raise Self-Awareness

While learning style models are not always empirically validated, they can still be useful tools for increasing learners’ self-awareness and helping educators tailor their approaches to individual needs. Here is a sample of some traditional learning models which can be useful in this respect.

1. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT)

David Kolb’s model posits that learning is a process involving the transformation of experience. It outlines a four-stage cycle: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Kolb identifies four learning styles—Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating—each corresponding to different preferences within the learning cycle.

2. VAK Model (Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic)

The VAK model categorizes learners based on their sensory preferences. Visual learners benefit from images and spatial understanding, auditory learners excel through listening, and kinesthetic learners thrive with hands-on experiences. This model is particularly useful for designing multi-modal training programs that engage different senses.

3. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s theory expands the concept of learning styles by identifying eight distinct intelligences, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. This model encourages a broader approach to talent development, recognizing diverse strengths.

4. Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles

Building on Kolb’s work, Honey and Mumford identify four learning styles—Activist, Reflector, Theorist, and Pragmatist—each with distinct preferences for how they approach learning tasks.

The Neuroscience of Learning

The new and exciting kid on the block is our deepening understanding of how our brain works, and how our brain facilitates learning.   Understanding the neuroscience behind learning can significantly enhance talent development strategies.

How the Brain is Wired to Learn

The brain’s remarkable ability to learn stems from its complex network of neurons and synapses, which form the foundation for all cognitive processes. At the core of learning and memory are the principles of neural plasticity and synaptic transmission.

1. Neural Plasticity

Neural plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s capacity to change and adapt in response to experience. This adaptability is fundamental to learning, as it allows the brain to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections. When we learn something new, the brain strengthens the synapses between neurons involved in that specific task or information. Repeated activation of these synapses makes the connections more robust, leading to more efficient neural pathways and enhanced memory retention.

2. Synaptic Transmission

Synapses are like tiny bridges between nerve cells in our brain, allowing them to send messages to each other. They appear in our brains with the specific job of facilitating the integration of new information.  Connecting this information to and between existing neurons.

However, learning something new isn’t enough on its own. If you don’t practice or use what you’ve learned, the synapses involved can weaken and disappear. This is why we sometimes forget things. Repeating what you’ve learned or putting it into practice helps strengthen these synapses, making it easier to remember and use the information later. So, to keep your learning fresh and strong, make sure to review and practice regularly.

3. Retaining Learning: Strengthening Neurons and Synapses

There are several ways to retain learning and strengthen relevant neurons and synapses.  Here are some key strategies:

  1. Repetition and Practice: Regularly revisiting and practising new information or skills helps reinforce the synaptic connections involved. This repeated activation strengthens the neural pathways, making the information more accessible.
  2. Sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for memory consolidation. During sleep, particularly during deep sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the brain processes and stores new information, solidifying learning.
  3. Active Engagement: Active learning methods, such as summarizing information, teaching others, or applying knowledge in different contexts, promote deeper processing and stronger synaptic connections.
  4. Multisensory Input: Engaging multiple senses can enhance learning and memory. For instance, combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements creates more robust neural connections.
  5. Emotional Involvement: Emotional experiences can significantly impact memory retention. Associating learning with positive emotions or meaningful contexts can enhance synaptic strength.
  6. Healthy Lifestyle: Regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management contribute to overall brain health, supporting neural plasticity and cognitive function.
  7. Feedback and Reinforcement: Receiving timely and constructive feedback helps learners adjust and improve, reinforcing the neural pathways associated with the correct information or skills.
  8. Spacing and Interleaving: Spacing out learning sessions and interleaving different topics or skills can improve long-term retention by promoting more durable synaptic changes.
  9. Novelty and Challenge: Engaging in novel and challenging tasks stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which enhances motivation and synaptic plasticity.
  10. Mindfulness and Focus: Practices like mindfulness and focused attention can improve cognitive control and the efficiency of synaptic transmission, aiding in better retention and recall.

Step-by-Step Guide to Talent Development

  1. Help employees understand learning processes and therefore how they tick.  Use assessments based on Kolb’s ELT, the VAK model, or other learning models to identify your employees’ preferred and varied learning styles.
  2. Create learning interventions that engage multiple senses and learning styles, incorporating visual aids, auditory materials, and hands-on activities.
  3. Promote active learning through activities like summarizing information, teaching others, and applying knowledge in real-world scenarios.
  4. Offer timely and specific feedback to reinforce learning and guide improvement.
  5. Encourage employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management, to support overall brain health.
  6.  Emphasize the importance of sleep for memory consolidation and cognitive function.
  7. Space out learning interventions and introduce different topics to improve long-term retention.
  8. Connect learning with positive emotions and meaningful contexts to enhance retention.
  9. Introduce novel and challenging tasks to stimulate neurotransmitter release and promote motivation.
  10. Encourage practices like mindfulness to improve attention and cognitive control.

By integrating neuroscience and learning styles into your talent development strategy, you can create an environment that supports continuous learning and growth. This approach not only helps your employees understand themselves better but also equips them with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their roles, driving your organisation toward greater success.