Sponsored Neuroscience Research with MIT and Accenture and Skillsoft

Skillsoft and Accenture instigated a sponsored neuroscience research initiative with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in August 2017. The goal of this research is to scientifically validate which instructional design methodologies have the greatest impact on the effectiveness of video-based instruction. Review the “Neuroscience Research Correlates a Growth Mindset and the Capacity to Learn New Skills” blog for additional insights and findings about Phase 1.

This research is divided into three phases.

Phase I involved the survey and evaluation of learners using similar content in six different video instruction strategies. This included samples of Skillsoft business and IT skills training as well as a baseline for instructor-led training.

Phase II includes brain scans of study participants as they engage with the sample learning content in the neuroscience lab at MIT

Phase III will involve brain scans of participants as they consume learning content amid the distractions in the workplace.

Learners crave a storyline, a narrative and some degree of self-directed, progressive disclosure of the concepts.

The treatment and design of the video materially influence the expressed level of engagement by the learner. Simply delivering an instructor/expert lecture on camera, interspersed with bulleted concepts, is the least engaging way to present critical leadership and business skills content. The findings suggest that learners crave a storyline, a narrative and some degree of self-directed, progressive disclosure of the concepts. This finding informs design considerations for instructional content for the modern enterprise. While buyers are drawn to “instructor-driven” videos, they may compromise the engagement of the learning.

For IT instruction, substance and depth prevail

For IT instruction, recommending the appropriate level of instruction is critical to overall cognitive engagement. One would expect those who already know the subject matter of the video to find it less appealing than those who are filling in gaps in their knowledge. However, this finding may suggest something even more profound, which is that IT learners crave depth and richness of the instruction to fill self-perceived skill gaps. When considering the relative indifference to the instructional strategy, the finding suggests that substance and depth prevail. One might conclude, that IT audiences will value learning modalities beyond video alone, such as digital books, as a vehicle for depth of study.

The importance of mindset

Regardless of the subject matter, a learner’s mindset (growth vs. fixed) is ultimately the greatest determinant of success.  If a learner is motivated and believes they can learn, then they are more likely to learn. Much of Carol Dweck’s research centered on this very point. Another provocative question is whether a growth mindset is something that can be instilled at scale. Said differently, if leaders can effectively influence or change one’s mindset to turn their organizations into hyper-learning machines, then this may yield the most significant impact on learning effectiveness and return on investment.

Closing in on profound breakthroughs in digital learning design

As the study moves into the next two phases, we will seek to prove just that.

  • Can we materially influence a learner’s mindset, so that they become better learners?
  • More importantly, can we scientifically validate that their level of engagement is improved as evidenced by an EEG signature?

Fully understanding this dynamic could lead to one of the most profound breakthroughs

in digital learning design in recent years.

In the coming months, Skillsoft and Accenture will be in the lab at MIT working to understand this. We have jointly developed a growth mindset intervention, which we will test in the lab.