Neuroscience Reveals The One Thing You Can Do To Become A Better Trainer, and It’s Something You Already Do Every Day!

When we think of learning engagement, our focus immediately goes to the student. But transfer of knowledge is, by definition, a two-person activity. Shouldn’t we start paying attention to trainer engagement? A neurological study that examines the student-trainer interaction has uncovered the importance of trainer engagement in the learning process, and sheds new light on how asking questions is the key to becoming a better trainer.

It takes two to tango, and this is especially true when it comes to learning: transfer of knowledge is a two-player game, a symbiotic relationship between trainer and student. And one of the most effective ways to ensure both parties are actively engaged in the education process is to teach by asking questions.

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Yes, you read that right! Asking questions of your student, mimicking the Socratic Method, is the most effective way to become a better trainer. Recent scientific research examining question-asking as a teaching method has proven that not only does interactive dialogue increase knowledge gain in learning settings, but it also increases the level of engagement for the teacher.

And since the two go hand in hand, a more engaged trainer equals a more engaged student.

How does asking questions affect engagement?

Asking questions might just sound like another method to add to your playbook, but it has a much bigger effect than we ever imagined. Science has proven that by asking questions of a student while teaching, there is a significant increase in brain activity in both the student and the trainer – which is the neuroscientific way of saying “increased engagement”.

To further solidify this notion, let’s take a look at a scientific study that proves that student-teacher dialogue leads to greater knowledge transfer and comprehension. In the study called The Cognitive Neuroscience of the Teacher-Student Interaction, scientists Antonio Battro and team sought to uncover the implications of the “teaching brain” in order to re-conceptualize how we understand the process of teaching as an interaction.

To do this, they had 17 pairs of subjects read an educational dialogue that involves the trainer asking questions of the student and used near-infrared spectroscopy devices to measure brain activity. What they found was that whenever a trainer had high brain activity during the discussion, the student also showed higher than normal brain activity. And the opposite was true for students who had lower than normal brain activity, as the teacher in these duos also exhibited lower than normal brain activity.

“The results demonstrated a strong positive correlation in activity between the students and the teachers in efficient educational dialogues (in which the student transferred the knowledge). These findings indicated that whenever a student showed greater activity (compared to the average of the student population) the teacher also showed greater levels of activity (relative to the average of the teacher population).”

This shows that asking questions of your student generates higher brain activity. And interestingly, when the trainer is more engaged in the conversation, so is the student. Trainers who use active discussion with students are proven to be more effective because the trainer feels more motivated, the student learns and retains more, and the content of the courses improves thanks to the numerous feedbacks and exchanges happening in the class.

What we can take from this is that asking questions will not only result in an overall more effective learning process, but the trainer’s level of engagement will be infectious for the student. Talk about a win-win!

How do we manifest trainer engagement?

It should come as no surprise that an engaged trainer is a better trainer, as the same rules apply regardless of your position: when you are interested and feel connected to what you are doing, you will do it better, with more passion.  But so rarely do we read articles discussing the importance of instructor engagement.

There unfortunately isn’t a ton of data readily available on learner engagement or student-trainer interactions, which is why so much of the teaching advice we read is a bit abstract. But this study is different, because it gives us hard facts that cannot be ignored: there is a direct correlation between trainer engagement and student engagement, meaning when the trainer has higher brain activity, the student will follow.

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So now we beg the question: how do we manifest trainer engagement? We know that active learning is significantly more effective than passive learning, and that mirror neurons play a star role in how we learn when interacting with each other, so incorporating active learning and human interactions are a smart way to begin increasing trainer engagement.

But taking it a step further than that, the answer lies right within the research method used in the study: Asking questions is neurologically proven to increase trainer engagement, and it is this type of discussion that will be a game changer in your learning strategy.

How to increase trainer engagement in e-learning courses

The positive impact of questions and feedbacks is undeniable, and neuroscience has proven that this method will lead to an increase in trainer engagement. But these dialogues can only happen if human interactions are present within the course, which is why it is imperative to include question-asking throughout your e-learning courses.

When transferring this method to your e-learning strategy the components for successful development need to include open conversation and dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge of subject. Creating an environment where the trainer feels empowered and engaged is the secret to improving learner engagement, as one will undoubtedly follow the other.

And it’s important to highlight, dialogues between trainer and learner can happen just as easily online as they do face-to-face. Interactive courses that encourage feedback, ask questions, and foster open discussions about the material are just as effective as in-person trainings!

As we said before, it takes two to tango! Trainers, just like students, learn best when motivated to learn and are actively engaged with other human beings. And the easiest way to begin improving your own engagement is by asking questions.

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