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Stickiness – A Peek Into How Employees Learn

“When you asked us to share a memory of the neighborhood we grew up in, I found that so weird. I shared, but wondered what the point was,” said a client of ours while reflecting on a LATE NITE ART experience.

But then, she said: “When I look back, that remains my favorite moment of the evening. Our childhood is central to our identity. Yet, we don’t talk about it at work." She had learned a new way of being at work.

What happened for her?

Besides the nostalgia, she chanced upon a sticky moment that made her learning last. It was a peak experience. It was emotional and personal. Such moments are key for effective employee learning.

Studies show that sticky moments have neurological foundations - when we get anxious, excited, or nervous, stress hormones like cortisol interact with the amygdala, a part of our brain that manages the response and memory of emotions. So, like our client, when you have a peak or pit experience, your amygdala goes, “Hey you, remember this for later!”

Why is stickiness important?

Adults as learners are more resistant than young people. Because they know more, and that information has formed neural pathways in their brain. Those become our worldview, opinions, identity, and culture. In the presence of new information, our brain creates patterns from what it already knows. And when it can’t, we get uncomfortable. Feelings emerge. The brain is shaken out of its rut. Learning happens.

How to make it sticky?

Experiential moments.

Here’s the thing about learning – it’s embodied. It doesn’t just involve the ‘brain’. Kathleen Taylor, adult learning expert, says, “Everything we come to know and understand throughout our lifetimes, originated with the body.” So, lasting learning cannot be created by sitting through a presentation. It happens when we push beyond our comfort. This changes our neural pathways. Our brain shifts. We learn.

Everything we come to know and understand throughout our lifetimes, originated with the body.
— Kathleen Taylor, Author and Professor for Adult Learrning

Here are two ways you can create stickiness in your team’s learning:

Invoke emotion 

It need not be grief or anger. Let’s aim for joy, sadness, confusion, surprise. Taylor’s research shows that without emotion, intelligence has no anchor. We become robots, with no ability for social decision making. So, create moments for personal sharing: hopes/ fears, appreciations, struggles, or gratitude.

Invite the senses

Those energizers feel silly. But, they also open up more learning avenues. It refreshes energy and breaks inhibitions. Quoting Taylor, “the only portal our brain has to the world outside, is through the body’s five senses.” Use them, so our brain can collect more data. Draw, move, dance, sing, have conversations – verbal and non-verbal.

We just want you to know that the adult brain is lazy. It wants to save energy and remain safe. But, that’s not going to take us places. Sticky learning moments will. Go get ‘em!

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What About Discomfort? 

Learn how discomfort can create empathy in a team.


About the Author

Nilisha Mohapatra is a trainer, mental health practitioner, and experiential educator, dedicated to building imaginative spaces for learning of all kinds. Using arts-based practices, she cultivate skills in young people and adults, across geographies and cultures. Be it organizational teams, youth from marginalized backgrounds, or teachers, Nilisha's practice bridges the worlds of depth and plays, invoking meaningful conversations.

Nilisha Mohapatra

Nilisha Mohapatra is a trainer, social change agent, experience designer, and personal change coach. She is dedicated to building imaginative spaces for learning of all kinds. She joined the LATE NITE ART team as a facilitator and creative consultant in 2016. Using arts-based practice and process work, she cultivate skills in young people and adults, cross geographies and cultures. Be it non-profit / corporate teams, youth from marginalized backgrounds, or teachers, Nilisha's practice bridges the worlds of depth and play, inviting people to explore both new and challenging themes.

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