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Ask the Experts: Lauren Waldman


Lauren Waldman is the Chief Learning Scientist at Learning Pirate and a champion of learning in practice.


Her amazing energy and engaging talks can be found across the net (seen a few myself!) and bring highlight to the connections between neuroscience and learning.


Let's set sail on the learning seas and catch up with Lauren.



1) Your early training was in adult education, but you moved into neuroscience. What pulled you into that field? Or should I say sea?


Curiosity, intuition and opportunity. Instinctually I’ve always designed learning differently, and the moment I began looking into neuroscience, I found the missing piece to my learning puzzle.


When I confronted my own learning deficits and realised that a) no one ever really taught me HOW to learn and b) I never took into consideration the thing doing the learning (the brain) it was a game changer. The more I learned about my brain, the more I understood the immense value of this knowledge to increase my abilities to be a better designer, learner and overall human.


Then the field pulled me in. I was invited and embraced by the scientific community, was given privileges to attend rounds at one of the best research centres and teaching hospitals in North America, and earned my place amongst them as a science translator.


2) Neuroscience has an almost mythic quality to it for learning designers, how would you recommend new learners approach the topic?


Cautiously. A lot of people read something really cool, think they grasped it, then unknowingly end up using it in the wrong way. I know because I did the same before I knew better. Remember neuroscience is the study of the function of the central nervous system. It’s the deeper understanding of the operational system itself and it’s incredibly complex.

If you’re serious about learning about the brain and learning, you’re going to need people to validate your learning as you go. There aren’t many of us translators/practitioners who exist in the field yet, but find us!


To get you going though, start with understanding some of the fundamentals, like what the brain is made of and generally how it works and what it’s limitations are. One of the first books I picked up was “How the brain Learns” by David. A Sousa. I suggest this as a good entry point for the basics.


3) Many people have either touted the direct evidence of neuroscience in learning design while others have given warnings that it isn’t as effective as some may say. What would you say?


I’d first say check their credentials and see if they have any background in the science to be making such claims. I have a board of advisors that validate all the translations into practice I do. We test it and make sure that there is validity to the translation, insert it into the learning designs and monitor the outcomes from learning intervention to skill/knowledge transfer.

From my experience and proven research from the field, I can say with confidence that there are several protocols based directly on how the brain works, that are incredibly effective in increasing the efficacy of a learning design. That being said it’s definitely more challenging to design scientifically. It’s not only the brain and the neuroscience to take into consideration, but also the cognitive methods and theories that one needs to merge together. I call designing like this my happy madness.😊


4) For many early designers out there, they learn a bit of theory and focus on development without much understanding about how neuroscience can help them. What would you say are the best applications of neuroscience for designers?


Understanding how memory works is absolutely critical to understanding how the brain learns, encodes and stores information for retrieval. When you have a better understanding of memory and how it consolidates, then the methods of spaced repetition and interleaving make much more sense and you can use them with more intention.


Cognitive load, again tied to memory is incredibly useful as well. The brain has limited working memory capacity and we want to make sure that we’re not overwhelming the system with too much content or too many moving pieces in a design. The brain is incredibly expensive the currency is energy. Part of our roles as learning designers is to design to protect and use wisely the cognitive energy that we have during a learning bout.

Attention and Focus, knowing the difference between the two, and how to help the attentional networks in the brain to focus, by means of the way we design (that’s the simplified answer…there’s a lot to learn and apply in this area).


5) Learning design can differ from professional to professional, what is your process when designing new learning?


My first step is to clearly identify the skills, abilities, knowledge or behaviours that need to be encoded as memories for later transfer into the work. I need to understand how they are going to be used, where, when etc..all the incredibly fine details that will be critical to designing.

From there, when I go into design it’s usually two steps forward, one step back. I am constantly going back to what I’ve designed previously in a section to see where I need to pull forward to help the brain create a network which will represent the memory.

Throughout the whole process, it’s all about asking myself “how is the brain taking this in?” “Am I using the resources wisely?” and “Am I working with the operational system or against it”.


6) What skills do you believe designers should invest time into now to be ready for the future?


I’m totally biased in saying this, but obviously, learn more about the process of learning, the learning how to learn and the brain. It truly does change the way we think about and go about learning and learning design.


7) Are there any learning leaders or academics you follow or read that you would recommend?


Sooooooo many!!! But here are a few:

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Standford Neuroscientist

Dr. David Eagleman

Dr. Robert and Elizabeth Bjork

I’d also suggest the Learning and the Brain association; they are more academic and for k-12 but have wonderful conferences and speakers. https://www.learningandthebrain.com/.


8) Any final advice for new learning pirates?


Be curious about yourself as a human! And HELP!! Help me advocate for science, for its place in learning and learning design. There are too many people who want to maintain the same level of learning that we’ve had for hundreds of years. Don’t be afraid to try new things, learn, fail and learn from the failures. It’s the way we’ll evolve the industry!

YARR- YOU ARE REALLY READY!


Thanks, Lauren for all that learning plunder!


Please be sure to check out Lauren's website, Learning Pirate.


In our next session, I'll be speaking with learning legend Guy W. Wallace!

Be sure you don't miss out.


(Note: I do not gain any financial benefit from these links, They are solely provided for your ease of access).




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