September 5, 2023|Kim's Blog, Management Skills|
Book review: Neuroscience for learning and development by Stella Collins

The 2019 second edition of this book (subtitled “How to apply neuroscience and psychology for improved learning and training”) provides fascinating insight and practical ideas to incorporate neuroscience into learning and development initiatives. It’s published by CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) and Kogan Page. It should be essential reading for anyone in a L&D, HR, training or coaching role. I’m pleased to report that most of the ideas were already incorporated into my training programmes and “train the trainer” resources.  I’ve summarised some key ideas to incorporate into your training programmes and included an overview of my training services at the end. Book review: Neuroscience for learning and development by Stella Collins.

Overview of Neuroscience for learning and development

The book is packed with practical ideas to improve the effectiveness of face-to-face and virtual learning. And I’m pleased (and relieved) to say that many of these tips were already incorporated into the majority of my training workshops. Perhaps that is a result of my psychology and counselling studies which included cognitive psychology. However, I still found this book interesting and useful.

The ideas are relevant whether you are working with knowledge transfer (e.g. on product knowledge), skills or operational training or promoting attitude or behaviour change. I liked the mind-maps throughout the book showing you what topics will be covered in each section.


There’s a detailed section on brain basics (including explanations on neurons, neurotransmitters and brainwaves) for those who are unfamiliar with neuroscience which you’ll need to make sense of the later content of the book. Neuroplasticity is also covered – the ability of our brains to constantly update to new information from the environment. There’s a reminder of Hebb’s law: “cells that fire together, wire together”. Most concepts – and many are complex – are conveyed simply.

The author explores non-associative, associative (with rewards and punishment) and cognitive learning (where we acquire knowledge). Whilst I found all the science interesting and a helpful refresher, I wondered whether it was necessary to know it all in order to produce better learning outcomes. So I’m confident you could skip some of this material if necessary.

Soft skills

It’s jam-packed with research evidence, so you know the information is reliable. There’s information about Howard Gardener’ multiple intelligences and emotional intelligence. And how these need to be considered in learning environments. And, of course, Carol Dweck’s work on growth vs fixed mindsets. And the power of advising learners about “yet”. There’s a suggestion that we stop talking about soft skills and refer to them instead as “valuable intelligences”.

Memory and reflection

There’s interesting information on how memory works. References to Alan Baddeley took me straight back to my undergraduate days studying cognitive psychology. There’s guidance on how to test people so that new knowledge is embedded and old habits broken. There’s advice on creating real-life or virtual environments to support context-dependent training. The exploration of a “truly terrible training course” shows you what to avoid. There’s a chapter dedicated to review and reflection activities. And an exploration of spaced repetition and spaced learning. Stories aid stickiness. There’s also material on the link between sleep and learning. And guidance on making best use of digital training technologies.

Training effectiveness

It’s always a challenge to measure the return on investment (ROI) in training. The author has included some research on the value of skills (e.g. people skills are worth £88 billion to UK industry alone). And mentions that the CIPD bought out three research reports between 2012 and 2014 describing the impact that neuroscience will have on learning. The author makes it clear that you need to “do” in order to learn and created the Brain Friendly Learning Group.

Throughout the book there are comments and case studies from others (“Other Voices”). Some were particularly noteworthy. For example, learning a sales process including documents and offers for clients that use colour and images to explain simply. Another example uses nature to enhance learning (e.g. walking in nature improves memory by up to 20% and creative problem-solving ability by 50%).

There are also checklists to help you create good learning environments and to help learners feel welcome, safe, relaxed and into creative states. There’s guidance on how to control some of the issues that affect learner motivation.

Some neuroscience insights I found interesting

  • When we are curious our brains are stimulated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter. So if you make your learners curious, you’re making learning enjoyable What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) (
  • Learning is a process by which changes in your brain allow you to behave and respond in particular ways. For any type of learning you connect neurons and change the way they communicate
  • Brains consume about 30% of your body’s energy resources whilst being less than 20% of your body weight
  • Dark chocolate can boost serotonin levels
  • Your memory doesn’t get worse as you get older. Memory is related to sleep quality and alertness. Older people are better at memory tests in the morning and younger people better later in the day
  • Albert Mehrabian’s famous research from 1971 (how much meaning from word compared to non-verbal behaviour) shows how laboratory research can be misconstrued
  • The Hawthorne Effect – productivity gains owed more to the motivational effects of being studied than the light levels being tested
  • William James (one of my favourite psychologists) suggested that you didn’t smile because you were happy but when you smiled you felt happy
  • The “feel, felt, found” sales technique
  • Caffeine has been shown to enhance cognitive performance and it takes about 15 minutes for the caffeine to kick-in
  • Positive emotions broaden perception and scope of attention (Barbara Fredrickson, 2001).
  • The best way to learn something is to have to teach it
  • There are currently up to 21 different senses suggested – more brainpower is devoted to processing visual information than any of the other senses
  • There’s a lack of evidence for learning styles (see post: Improve learning effectiveness – Using Kolb’s learning styles ( But there is evidence that multisensory learning has better outcomes especially for memory
  • Attention is about security – we pay attention to things that could be a threat. Attention has three parts: arousal, orientation and focus. Estimates for human attention span range from 5 to about 20 minutes. It can be provoked by internal or external stimuli. People need time to pay attention to what’s going on inside their heads (reflection) as well as outside. There’s a reference here to the fact that your brain can’t really tell the difference between external pain and emotional pain (see Naomi Eisenberger’s research Leadership: Lessons from Star Trek and Neuroscience – Kim Tasso)
  • Yerkes-Dodson law shows the relationship between arousal and performance – most people will recognise this from stress management (how much stress is required for optimal performance). Studies show we pay attention and learn more easily when there is a higher level of complexity or processing challenge
  • You won’t perform as well on each task if you multitask rather than focus
  • Reframe “disruptive” learners as those who have not yet found the best way to process the information or skills that they are learning
  • From cognitive psychology, we know there are two types of memory – declarative/explicit and non-declarative/implicit. There are also two types of explicit memory – semantic (information you just know) and episodic (memories of specific events)
  • It takes between 16 days to eight months to break a habit but the average is about two months – not 21 days. CAR framework can help: Cues, Actions, Rewards
  • The 10,000 hours to be an expert has been debunked. World-class experts limit themselves to no more than four hours of focused practice per day.
  • Ebbinghaus showed that spacing your learning over a longer time period was far more effective than trying to cram information into a short space of time (spaced repetition)
  • Whether notes are provided before, during or after a session had little difference
  • Negative moods can impede thinking and insight
  • Wearing red makes sports teams more successful and can increase levels of testosterone making the wearer feel and appear more confident. Green environments seem to be better for creative thinking and even a view of green plants can be relaxing. Natural light boosts attention levels
  • With a lot of time spent using technology we tend to have less time to simply contemplate. Time spent not focusing and allowing our minds to wander is a valuable tool for reflection, creativity and learning
  • Personal connection is vital for modern workplace learning with 91% believing collaboration, 70% mentoring and coaching and 81% management support are either essential or very useful to learn how to do their job

Suggestions for incorporating neuroscience into your training

  • We remember and learn better after guessing an answer (through semantic activation)
  • Be less of a “sage on the stage” and more of a facilitator (see How to facilitate groups – Guidance for those organising and facilitating ( and How to facilitate groups – 2 (Herding cats in professional services) (
  • Use the MASTER model (Motivate minds by arousing curiosity, Absorb information through all the senses, Sense made of information through all intelligences, Trigger memories, Exhibit learning and Review to retain)
  • Spark curiosity in your learners – both before the training in prework and during sessions to create exploratory, playful and experimental states (see this book for more on curiosity The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers (
  • Help learners relax, reduce their fear and connect with others
  • Encourage learners to frame their personal learning outcomes – what they want to achieve from the training before they attend
  • Increase the number of sensory inputs (sight, sounds, touch etc) during a training session. Smell has the power to elicit strong memories as it the most primitive sense and is the only sense that goes directly to the limbic system
  • Most people find visuals (pictures, diagrams and video) improve their ease of learning and the retention of information. Researchers found drawingencourages learners to engage in generative cognitive processing during learning”. And if learning a process, drawing could make it easier. Encourage people to create mind-maps rather than take notes. Create collaborative wall murals or flash cards. Although researchers indicate that diagrams and drawings may not always be the answer – it depends on whether learners feel the information is easier to learn
  • We pay more attention to warm colours (yellow, red and orange). The colours worn by the facilitator may have an impact
  • In webinars you’ll need more slides as people are wired to pay attention to “change” – use pictures or video rather than text
  • Echoic memories are short – only holding about 3-4 seconds worth of information. There are some short-term effects on temporary arousal and positive emotions from listening to certain types of music. So music could be used to change the emotional context for learning – people’s emotional states and their readiness to learn.
  • There’s more evidence that our brains need movement to function well and that our cognitive skills are enhanced for the short and long term by being active. Just getting people to stand up during training can help
  • To achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow” you need three things to be in place:
    • A task or activity with clear goals and progress
    • Clear and immediate feedback so you can adjust your performance
    • Right balance between perceived challenges and your perceived skills (i.e. confident you can complete it)
  • Increase levels of self-reference – people pay more attention to and remember information more easily if they are able to relate it to themselves (which is why storytelling is so powerful: Video – The art of storytelling – Kim Tasso explains and demonstrates)
  • Ask your learners more questions as this directs their attention
  • Recognise that your learners will have different types of intelligence Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences – Simply Psychology and structure (exploratory) tasks accordingly
  • To assist learning and long-term memory: a) deploy devices such as mind maps and spidergrams b) use emotion and multiple senses c) create anchors or links to existing knowledge d) provide novelty e) use stories f) use chunking. Summarised with: LEARNS: Links, Emotion, Anchors, Repetition, Novelty and Stories
  • Test your learners regularly – learners who actively tested their knowledge during practice could remember more information. Retrieving information is more effective than merely being re-exposed to it
  • At the end of an activity, encourage people to spend a few minutes working socially to discuss what the session has meant to them
  • After the training, create a manager’s brief with an overview of the training highlights. Send to the learners and their mangers a week after the training session to initiate a 10 minute conversation about what was learned and how it will be applied
  • On language use – keep it simple, prime the brain with what you want, highlight compliant behaviours, say “yes” rather than “no” and metaphors touch the multisensory brain

Book outline

  1. Why neuroscience and learning are good companions
  2. The science of your brain
  3. What to do when someone says “neuroscience says”
  4. The science of learning
  5. Motivating learners from curiosity to persistence
  6. Use your sense: Getting information from the outside world into your head
  7. Attention, learning and why Goldilocks deserves recognition
  8. Making learning meaningful and valuing intelligence
  9. Meaningful memories: From encoding to forgetting
  10. Testing, experimenting, habits and practice
  11. Review and reflect: Getting rid of the magic wand
  12. Stickier stories and food for thought
  13. Sleep and learning
  14. Your brain and digital learning
  15. The future is already with us
  16. The end of this journey and the start of more

Learning and Development (L&D) and Training services from Kim Tasso

For many years I have provided L&D development advice (e.g. establishing competency frameworks and helping to build training programmes) to professional services firms. I have also provided off-the-shelf and custom training programmes for both public courses and inhouse for firms of lawyers, accountants, surveyors and consultants for decades. I also provide “Train the trainer” support.

My original degree was in psychology. I am a qualified coach, have certifications in personality assessment and mediation. I am soon be an accredited psychotherapist and counsellor. This expertise in promoting change brings a different dimension to the business and skills training I deliver.

I have written seven books – on growth strategies, business development, selling, business relationships, media relations and social media. In 2020, I published Essential soft skills for lawyers (

Training for marketing and business development (M&BD) professionals

For over 15 years I have created and delivered training for M&BD professionals (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced) through PM Forum. Topics include: Professional and Practical skills for Marketing & BD Assistants, The Proactive Marketing Executive and Future Marketing Manager.

There are also courses on specific topics such as: Campaigns, Cross-selling, Key Account Management (KAM), M&BD planning, Managing change, Pitching and tendering, Project Management, Strategic thinking and Referrer Management. And skills workshops on: Assertiveness, Commerciality, Creativity, Coaching, Consulting, Engagement and buy-in, Selling, Thought Leadership and Writing.

I am Head of Training and Learning Transfer for PM Forum  and Managing Partners’ Forum

I also help firms develop and deliver tailor-made, interactive workshops (both online and in person) to review strategy, motivate teams and tackle specific projects. Sometimes these are for away days, strategy retreats and team building exercises.

Training for lawyers, accountants, surveyors and consultants

I create and deliver a wide range of training workshops for fee-earning staff.

There are some public sessions available through MBL:

  • Pitch Perfect – How to Prepare & Present Winning Pitches & Tenders
  • Managing & Marketing a Profitable Surveyors’ Practice
  • Developing More Work from Referrers & Intermediaries
  • Driving Change Management – A Masterclass for Professional Practices
  • Pick Up the Phone! Client Service & Sales Opportunities for Professionals in the Digital Age
  • The Art of Selling Professional Services & Winning Business
  • How to Manage & Grow Your Private Client Practice
  • Boosting Your Confidence at Work – A Toolbox for Success

For inhouse clients, my workshops have covered topics such as: Business development basics, Client Meetings, Client relationship management, Client research, Conflict management and negotiation, Conversation skills, Dealing with difficult people, Delegation, Empathy & Emotional Intelligence, Enquiry management, Feedback, Influence and persuasion, Key Account Management, Networking, Managing complaints, Problem-solving and creativity, Sales processes, Sector marketing and Targeting.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of your training requirements.

Related posts on neuroscience and learning

Book review: Neuroscience for organizational change by Hilary Scarlett ( May 2020

Research update on the most in-demand soft skills ( May 2023

art and science of overcoming clinical depression (2021) by Oliver Kamm” ( March 2023

Marketing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) ( August 2022

What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) ( July 2021

Range – How generalists triumph in a specialized world” by David Epstein ( August 2020

The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers ( April 2020

Changing behaviour in the workplace to boost productivity – psychology ( December 2019

Helping people change: Coaching with compassion ( October 2019

Book review: Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth ( October 2019

Advanced Marketing Management: Principles, skills and tools ( May 2019

Coaching models – book review of Stephen Gibson’s book ( August 2017

Improve learning effectiveness – Using Kolb’s learning styles ( August 2015

Boost training effectiveness by incorporating learning theory ( September 2014

Essential soft skills for lawyers (