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Science Behind Modern Learning Neuroscience and Psychology

Updated: Mar 11

Sandbox Effect • Hawthorn Effect • Doorway Effect


If you’ve ever taught–or even just watched someone learn something new–the role of play in learning is fascinating. In sandbox learning, learners are able to directly interact with content without the intrusion of monitoring, assessment, or deciphering “teacher messages”. When this happens, there is more willingness to experiment, to understand, to follow curiosity, and to hold one’s self accountable to personal standards for achievement. And this is not a matter of simply moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, but has more to do with sitting “first-person” in the learning process.


"Not on the game but in the game."

- Terry Heick – The Future of Learning



One immediate effect of this is personalized learning, for the learner, by the learner. Self-direction is extraordinarily powerful when combined with a supporting framework of digital technology, communal constructivism, and play.



The Sandbox Effect and The Hawthorn Effect


The question becomes a matter of logistics for trainers: Is the state of “flow” and self-directed play available in sandbox learning–where creativity and innovation come so effortlessly–something that can be promoted in your corporate training environment? Can a “sandbox approach” of combining self-directed learners in playful, authentic and often digital environments yield the growth employers require and employees deserve? 


"The Sandbox approach–may be the only thing that can save training as we know it. If you want to teach, by all means teach. Help build background knowledge and develop skills. Have them jump through your hoops, and hand them rewards when they do it right. But if you want to see them at their genius, create a sandbox and watch them play."


Terry Heick – The Future of Learning



How Professionals Learn


AI provides us the ability to deliver individualized learning @ scale with instant feedback, collaboration, and personalization.


“research in neuroplasticity, points toward practice, repetition, multi-sensory hands-on activities, and making mistakes in a safe environment as the best way to learn."


Ann Betz – Neuroscience Consultant


“The reason employees learn faster with simulation is due to the sandbox-effect that enables creativity, reduced anxiety and provides a safe learning environment to test, fail, and progress.”

-David Eagleman Stanford University neuroscientist & New York Times bestselling author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain



The Doorway Effect


Jeffrey Zachs professor of Psychology whose laboratory studies of the brain shared that, "The doorway effect suggests that there's more to remembering than just what you paid attention to, when it happened, and how hard you tried.  Instead, some forms of memory seem to be optimized to keep information ready-to-hand."


Gabriel Radvansky, University of Notre Dame calls this sort of memory representation an “event model,” and propose that walking through a doorway purges your event models.  That thing in the box?  Oh, that's from what I was doing before I got here; we can forget all about that.  



A Doorway Effect – Need for Reinforcement


The Science of Learning and Retention


Human memories are episodic, as opposed to being clear, linear narratives, which means that they are split into segments and hugely depend on the person who is forming them.


Furthermore, it is also believed that walking through open doors resets the memory to make room for the creation of a new episode.



Modern Learning Incorporates Reinforcement


"The way our attention moves up and down the hierarchy of action is what allows us to carry out complex behaviors, stitching together a coherent plan over multiple moments, in multiple places that requires multiple actions." That is how we learn.


Charles B. Brenner, Jeffrey M. Zacks | Scientific American

Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget?




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