February 23rd, 2014
In one of my cognitive design workshops I have participants work with commercially available brain-computer interfaces and try to move an object on the computer screen with their mind. This frustrates most participants but for the 25% that can do it well it is a transformational experience. By relaxing or giving a thought command (e.g. “go up”), a mental state is translated into an action of the computer screen. Through trial and error they learn to adjust their mental states to get the desired outcome on the computer screen. For the first time a multi-media representation of an internal thought or feeling is used as a feedback signal to drive learning.
This simple exercise (when it works) demonstrates how the latest brain science can revolutionize our approach to learning, decision-making, creativity and other cognitive and mental performances.
This is basic neurofeedback but until you do it you lack the direct experience that is so valuable for excellence in design and innovation work.
Neurofeeback is not the only experience a cognitive designer needs. Others include plasticity, mirror neurons, cognitive illusions, magnetic stimulation, electrical stimulation (e.g. transcranial electric stimulation) and other forms of neuromodulation that are informed by the latest brain science. For readable review of some of the recent research check out Education and Neuroscience: An Expert Review on the ThInk blog.
While the promise that neuroscience holds for improving education and all brain-intense human activities is tremendous, progress has been slow and is likely to remain so. As one of the researchers points out:
“Realistically, on current trends, future development is likely to be slow, especially given the ethical and safety concerns”
One way to speed things up is to make creative use of approaches that have already proven to be safe and effective. That is why I spend my time creating experiences for designers and innovators. With simple brain computer interfaces, neuromodulators and magic kits we can already disclose new worlds.
Once seen there is no going back. Learning to move a cursor (or any object) with your mind is a gateway experience for would-be cognitive designers. How many design and innovation courses or programs offer that?
February 12th, 2014
Massive open online classes (MOOCs) burst onto the education scene over the last few years. Millions of people have taken them with some classes hitting initial enrollments of 100,000 plus! The New York Times dubbed 2012 the Year of the MOOC and the likes of Stanford, Harvard, MIT and Northwestern are MOOCing their educational content and learning experiences.
Studying the effectiveness of MOOCs is a hot topic and definitely relevant for cognitive designers. So I am always on the lookout for scientific quality studies with design implications. For example, a series of working papers has been released on several of the MOOCs run on edX. These MITx working papers include a summary of the experience and papers on individual MOOCs ranging from solid state chemistry to fighting global poverty.
A few of the findings hint at non-traditional learning phenomenon. For example, not surprising completion rates are very low but there is some evidence that those that drop out still engage with the materials during/after the course. This signals big interest in getting access to world-class content but less interest in engaging in structured learning. On average, 50% of the students are leaving within two weeks of enrolling. Further supporting this hypothesis.
Interested to hear from readers that are evaluating MOOCs and considering how we can use them to support and enhance the cognition of learning.
January 24th, 2014
Practicing by learning from experience is important in sports and many types of knowledge work. Deliberate practice that involves dynamically adjusting the difficulty of the practice task, is often touted as the best way to rapidly move up the learning curve from novice to expert. One reason video games are so engaging is that they use levels, restarts and automatic dynamic difficulty adjustment to keep you at the edge of psychological flow and in deliberate practice mode.
Understanding the cognition of learning is fundamental to good game design and vice versa. For example, recent research reported in Psychological Science reveals that players of the game Axon where able to improve their performance quicker by engaging in specific learning strategies.
The more effective learning strategies included previewing (exploring how the game worked) and spacing out their practice session. These are two strategies that you can easily build into other types of facilitated or self-directed study materials or learning processes. For example, the static chapter previews offered in traditional textbooks might be far more effective if there were hyper-linked.
Studying people as they play video games or massive online multi-player games offers a new view into the cognition of learning compared to what we have learned from the lab or field. As the authors point out:
“This kind of data affords us to look in an unprecedented way at the shape of the learning curve, allowing us to explore how the way we practice helps or hinders learning,”
This is especially important for cognitive designers as games are one context where learning is pleasurable and participants are blissfully productive sometimes to extreme levels.
January 12th, 2014
My free provocative ideas online webinar, use micro-learning techniques to change behaviors and improve performance is scheduled to run January 15 at 1pm ET. I will talk about how knowledge cards can be used to structure a rapid and low-cost approach to creating social mobile content that changes behavior.
According to the host, Training Magazine, there are currently 684+ registered attendees. If you cannot make it, I will be moderating a discussion forum that will run after the webinar. It will include a recorded version of the event, additional background materials and an opportunity to share application ideas and even draft knowledge cards. You need to register to participate but it is free.
Hope you can join me in the event and participate in the discussion forum.
January 5th, 2014
There is no doubt that stories have a big impact on how we think-and-feel. They influence attention, memory, motivation, learning, decision-making, creativity and a host of other mental activities. Some say, a specific story has even change their life. How stories work their psychological magic is of central concern to cognitive designers so I am always on the look out for new scientific studies that offer insights.
For example, recent research from the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University suggests that stories not only impact our psychology they may have lasting impact on the activation and wiring of our brains. The researchers asked 21 undergraduates to read Robert Harris’s novel Pomepii and found that neural changes persisted in their brains for five days.
One interesting finding:
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,”
Persistent changes in biology signal just how powerful the effects of story are.
Interested to hear from readers about stories that have changed their lives / brains.
December 31st, 2013
Compassion typically involves the recognition of someone else’s suffering on both an intellectual and emotional level and a real attempt to address or alleviate it. Acts of compassion are widespread ranging from one friend consoling another about a loss, or an oncologist coaching a cancer patient to a relief organization striving to help an entire community struck by a natural disaster.
Compassion is about helping others in an emotionally connected way. We expect compassion to happen naturally but sometimes it is difficult to make the emotional connection and keep your balance especially if you are exposed to intense suffering on a regular basis. Think about about acute healthcare for example. On the other hand, acts of compassion can naturally generate tremendous energy for positive transformational change. Consider the success of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for example.
Understanding the psychology of compassion can be useful in many cognitive design challenges so I am always on the lookout for scientific studies with practical insights. Take for example, the recent research by the University of Rochester Medical Center, What Does Compassion Sound Like? They completed a study of how doctors talk with patients in a compassionate way looking for language use and behaviors that defines the experience. The researchers looked at tone of voice, humor, non-verbals, pauses, sights and a wide-range of other factors. Their general conclusion is important:
“It became apparent that compassion is not a quality of a single utterance but rather is made up of presence and engagement that suffuses an entire conversation,”
The implications for designers or anyone seeking to improve compassion-driven experiences is clear. Compassion frames the entire experience and unfolds during the course of the interaction.
December 24th, 2013
Most adults have watched thousands of hours of movies. I’ve often wondered how that impacts long-term memory. Do the movie memories mix with the real-world memories and change how we interpret the world, learn and make important decisions and judgments? I bet it does, big time, but I have not been able to find any detailed studies of the effects.
I did recently see a study on how taking photographs of an object can impact memory for the object. According to point-and-shoot memories, if you take a picture of an entire object you are less likely to remember details about it. However, if you zoom in on a part of the object and take a photo of the details, your memory is unaffected. The study concludes:
“This finding highlights key differences between people’s memory and the camera’s “memory” and suggests that the additional attentional and cognitive processes engaged by this focused activity can eliminate the photo-taking-impairment effect.”
With cameras in our phones and popular ways of manipulating sharing photos (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Pic Stich, and Pinterest) camera memories are becoming a significant part of our Next Brain.
Sourced from the Next Brain Blog
December 20th, 2013
Being an effective workplace coach means you understand how people’s minds work especially when they learn and change. That’s the focus of a powerful new coaching program being offered in the learning and organizational change program at Northwestern. You will:
“Look deeply at the theory and practices behind learning and human performance in organizational settings while building a consulting “toolkit” that will help you be a more effective change leader.”
To earn a certificate you need to complete four courses. You can do that in a year from anywhere in the US. The program begins in March 2014 and there are two virtual information sessions in January.
If there is one coaching program I can recommend for cognitive designers this is it!
December 15th, 2013
Metaphors play an important role in learning, communication, creativity, decision-making and all nearly all of our mental processes. Metaphors are a power tool for cognitive designers.
They are a window in how our minds are actually working and when properly designed they can shift behaviors and bring cognitive performance to new levels.
That’s why I am always on the lookout for new scientific results on cognition and metaphors.
Take for example the article, What do love and jealously taste like? just published in the journal Emotion. Interestingly, the researchers found that those primed for the emotion of love reported that water tasted sweeter than normal or when they are primed for another emotion such as jealously or happiness. This provides some evidence that the metaphor “Love is sweet” impacts our perception of taste. Another case of expectations and psychology shaping senses and physiology.
December 10th, 2013
In cognitive design we create artifacts that are optimized for how minds really work. There are five types of “minds” that are important in cognitive design.
- Individual (between the ears) including mental processes and structures in a given person’s brain.
- Extended (in the hand) including objects that we think, learn and create with. For example, an artist’s favorite paint brush or an architect’s model of a building.
- Group (among the heads) including any collection of individuals. For example, a partnership, product development team or therapy group.
- Machine (in a black box) including hardware and software that automates one or more mental processes or structures. For example, the buzzer on your clothes dryer or an expert system a car mechanics uses to diagnosis a problem.
- Emergent (beyond the heads) including a group and/or machine intelligence the delivers a new mental state or level of performance. For example, a prediction market that forecasts a presidential election or the success of a new product better than any individual.
A robust design seeks to distribute cognitive load across the five types of mind. In some applications we look to off-load the mental work that individuals have to shoulder on to groups or machines. In other cases we look to boost mental capacity by creating machine or extended minds that outperform individual or group minds in an important way.
For example, Wikistrat is an example of how to use an emergent mind effects to outperform a group of highly trained individuals. They are using gamification and crowdsourcing to produce high quality reports and forecasts on complex geopolitical and economic issues 5 times faster and for 1/3rd the price of traditional consultancies.
The architecture that creates the emergence is similar to massively multiplayer online games. Wikistrat assembles a group of analysts to develop scenarios for a client’s strategic challenge and then lets gamification kick in:
The chief analyst synthesizes the results and the client has access to all the intelligence via an interactive platform.
Definitely a new way to support the cognitive work needed to generate strategic insights into economic and geopolitical issues.