Make Your VILTS More Effective with Neuroscience Part II

Margie Meacham
Posted: June 11, 2014

Click here to read the first article in the Neuroscience series.

Educators have long known that a motivated learner has a greater chance of success, but the reason for this observed fact was only recently discovered. When learners expect to gain important skills, they come to a learning event with a heightened level of attention and look for ways to incorporate new information into their current web of neural connections.

The Effect of Anticipation

To understand the powerful effect that preparation can have, we need to understand the fundamental purpose of our brain, which is to keep us alive. Over time, our cognitive abilities became a competitive advantage of our species over all others on the planet. As soon as you know you’re about to attend a training event, your brain starts drawing pictures about it. It sends out signals to existing memories and pulls information together to prepare for the anticipated event. This activity is called cued associative learning.

Scientists have recently been able to actually capture the prefrontal cortex, where our complex cognitive processing takes place, in the act of anticipation. This automatic response helps prepare us to take the actions needed to survive impending threats or learn new survival skills. The question for us as training professionals is this: Will our learners paint exciting, motivating pictures of how they interact in their next VILT, or start planning how to survive the boring experience?

You can leave the motivation of your learners to chance, or you can choose to make your VILTs more powerful by preparing the participants and instructors. Here are a few ideas:

Feature a Senior Leader in a Video Announcement

Ask a senior leader to record a little video about the purpose of the training and how it will affect results. (Of course, we’re assuming that your event already is closely tied to business goals. If it isn’t, sit down with the leader until you’ve crafted an effective benefits statement to promote the training.) We’ve already learned how mirror neurons can influence desired behavior. In this case, we’ll be using the enthusiasm of a role model to stimulate the same enthusiasm in the brains of our learning audience.

Use a Prequiz to Put the Brain on Alert

By quizzing the participants a few days in advance of the event, you stimulate brain cells in the prefrontal cortex to start looking for existing knowledge to associate with the new information. Even if participants don’t consciously take note of the questions they miss on the prequiz, their brains will, and the result will be greater attentiveness during the event.

Invest Time in a Robust Train-the-Trainer Session

According to the Society of Applied Learning Technology (SALT), a significant number of VILT instructors are unable to use all the features available to them. Design the training with features such as whiteboards, chats, hands-on practice, breakout rooms and other powerful capabilities, and make sure your instructors are comfortable using them.


With the right preparation, virtual training doesn’t have to be a boring event that our learners try to just survive. It can be an engaging, skill-building time of learning. We’ll talk about the impact of an effective post-training plan in the next installment.

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