Brain-centric Design by Rich Carr and Kieran O’Mahony

The Big Idea: Abandon traditional instruction (ie lectures) based on outdated behaviorist theories and replace with Brain Centric Instruction Design based on our improved understanding of neuroscience and learning.

Traditional instruction is based on BF Skinner behaviorism theory and reward-punishment thinking. The result is lectures, where the instructor does 99% of the talking, and little is retained by most of the students.

Brain-centered instruction design is based on a more evolved understanding of neuroscience and psychology.

The brain filters information by use of the reticulating activating system.

Chunking is the process of taking a large piece of information and breaking it down into palatable bits of similar content. It takes advantage of the brain’s working memory constraints and the interconnection of neural pathways.

One way to strengthen neural pathways is to present the information in a way that engages multiple areas of the brain .

Not only does dopamine make circuitry more efficient, it also ensures that learners enjoy the learning process, retain more information, and fully understand the content provided. It’s that personal feeling of achievement and satisfaction you get when you hit the right note on an instrument or when you stand up on a surfboard for the first time. Dopamine has been linked to intrinsic motivation.

Boost dopamine levels through ME HERE NOW. “What’s in it for ME, HERE and NOW?”.

Boost dopamine levels through attention arousal and make a topic particularly noticeable or important.

The material to be learned should always be challenging yet attainable.

When talking about neural pathways, it’s use it or lose it. Practice makes permanent.

Help students to develop a growth mindset approach by emphasizing, “try harder” and then giving the student practical advice so they could do better in the future. Show the learner that their brain is malleable. Help them understand that their potential is limitless.

Most corporate training courses and classrooms are solidly entrenched in the behaviorist methodology. The behaviorist methodology relies on extrinsic motivation to convey knowledge

Author Alfie Kohn argues that reward and punishment based systems fail to produce long-term results.

A subject matter expert is often the wrong person to stand in front of a class.

The essential element Brain Centric Instructional Design is the Big Idea, communicated in the framework of ME HERE NOW, supported by max 2 scaffolding concepts.

The Challenge Wheel is the method of instruction for Brain Centric Instruction Design based on the latest in neuroscience.

  1. Initial Thoughts.
  2. Multiple Perspectives.
  3. Reflect.
  4. Revised Thinking
  5. Report Out

  1. Initial Thoughts.

Create a moment of disequilibrium that connects with the Big Idea, such as a theoretical disaster that is meaningful for the learner (ME HERE NOW.)

Invite learners to write down their Initial Thoughts about the Big Idea. Assure them that they are the only person who will see their Initial Thoughts.

To activate prior knowledge, state the Big Idea and then ask the learners to write down what they already know about that topic.

  1. Multiple Perspectives.

Allow 15 – 20 minutes. Present multiple perspectives from various subject experts. Use multimedia to increase novelty and remain engaging. Maintain Me Here Now.

This spoke comprises the bulk of your content.

The content is optimally presented in entertaining and digestible chunks.

If you are bored by the content you’ve provided, the learner will be bored too. Challenge yourself to find and create rich, meaningful content.

Also, the experts you choose don’t have to agree with each other. It can be beneficial to build a little controversy into the discussion. Controversy is engaging.

In-house branding is not memorable for most learners. It may have been interesting for the first few months of employment, but over time, it becomes routine. As Brain-centric educators, we prefer to present learners with material that surprises them.

  1. Reflect.

Allow two minutes. Ask learners to privately answer three questions in writing.

  1. What was surprising?

Amusingly, we’ve found that engineers are typically the most resistant to this question.

  1. What did I already know but now I see differently?

This is a deliberate metacognitive priming that facilitates sharing, adaptive expertise, and learning with deep understanding.

We often call this question the “bridge.”

  1. What do I need help with?

The fear of being wrong is replaced by the intrinsic value of bolstering one’s own learning through fearless self-criticism.

Vulnerability is essential for conceptual change.

By answering these three questions, the learner is explicitly encouraged to think critically, find their voice so that they can articulate their thoughts in public, and arm themselves for a solid discussion with their peers.

  1. Revised Thinking

Allow 10 minutes. Conduct as a group activity. Encourage groups to share reflections.

During the Revised Thinking activity, small-group peer learners share their reflections. Role play is a formative engagement technique for activating individual potential.

Roles typically end up as the following: spokesperson, scribe, timekeeper, and taskmaster.

Most learners agree that knowing they will have a role is helpful in terms of competitive anxiety and stressors that typically pervade group work.

Learners can see each other’s thinking and can learn from one another.

Groups work best with five to seven people.

Groups to begin their discussion by selecting a nonthreatening name for themselves.

Scribe writes down the main discussion points that emerge as each individual voices their reflection on the three scaffolding questions from earlier.

Timekeeper keeps everyone focused.

Taskmaster makes sure that each voice is heard.

After completing a few iterations of the Challenge Wheel, it is obvious to everyone in the room that the participants have meshed into true team members.

  1. Report Out

Allow 10 to 20 minutes. Invite a spokesperson from each small group to share their answers to the three questions . Provide facilitator feedback .

Learners share their answers to the three questions. The facilitator invites each member to stand while their spokesperson announces the group’s name (for example, Happy Amygdaloids) and presents their responses from the Revised Thinking activity. As they present their ideas, each group member will hear their own words repeated, giving them a hit of dopamine.

Hearing the group say “we” indicates a degree of safety in the learning space and marks a transition into a collaborative mode.

During Report Out, you can hear what the learner still needs help with, because you receive direct feedback in real time.

In this way, BcD helps the learners shift from traditional labeling and stratification in a reward-and-punishment structure to a more brain-aligned approach where higher-order activation takes precedence. Group processes enhance motivation, increase productivity, and foster attention.

Comments are closed.