By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
I was at a birthday party. The host was stressed because the cake from the bakery had not arrived. I had the task of keeping 10 kids aged busy as she stepped out to talk to the bakery. The children were all aged anywhere between 4 and 6 years.
I cleared my throat and asked, “How many of you can sing?” I had ten singers who were unafraid to try out their skills. Ask a group of adults the same question and most people will stop making eye contact with you. “I am too old to learn,” they say.
Neuroscience tells us that the brain has infinite capacity to learn at any age.
The aging workforce
Every company faces a growing skills shortage. And the world is dealing with an aging population.
By 2050, it is projected that one in every six people worldwide will be over the age of 65. In countries like Japan, Germany, and Italy, the aging trend is even more pronounced, with estimates suggesting that over 30% of their populations will be aged 65 or older. Can they learn new tricks? Should we rethink our assumptions about learning capacity of our brain… yes.
The brain’s capacity does not decrease with age
In the hidden realms of the brain, a captivating phenomenon known as neuroplasticity has scientists and researchers buzzing with excitement. It unveils the mind’s astonishing ability to reshape and rewire itself, transforming our understanding of human potential. Prepare to embark on a journey into the captivating world of neuroplasticity, where the brain’s capacity for change will leave you awe-struck.
Imagine a young child, his brain a blank canvas awaiting the strokes of experience. As he navigates the world, his neural connections spark and sizzle, forming intricate pathways that lay the foundation for his future abilities. But here’s the kicker: the astounding reality is that this power of change, this malleability of the mind, doesn’t drop with age.
The magic of neuroplasticity
The brain is a vast playground, waiting to be explored and molded. Every time we engage in a new skill, tackle a challenging puzzle, or embark on a journey of learning, we’re sculpting the neural landscape of our minds. With each stroke of effort and determination, the brain responds, rewiring its intricate pathways to accommodate newfound knowledge and skills.
Use neuroscience to build a growth mindset
A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. So stop thinking that there is an age after which it is hard to learn new skills. ‘You just don’t know it … yet’ as Prof Carol Dweck says while explaining growth mindset.
- Build on what you know: Adult learners have a wealth of prior experiences and knowledge that can be tapped into for effective learning. Activate your prior knowledge by connecting new information to what you already know. This helps create meaningful associations and strengthens neural connections, making it easier for you to understand and retain new concepts. Use strategies such as brainstorming, concept mapping, or asking probing questions to build upon existing knowledge.
- Engage Multiple Senses: Use visuals like diagrams, charts, or videos to supplement verbal explanations. Use hands-on activities, role-playing, or real-life applications to build fun into learning. Find out whether you learn better by reading, or watching videos or podcasts. The pandemic changed our media habits. I used an old sketchnote to summarize the changes.
According to Deloitte’s 2022 Digital media trends survey, social and gaming experiences are competing head-to-head with video for consumers’ attention, especially among Gen Z and Millennials. Statista reported that American consumers spend around eight hours of their day with digital media, roughly the double the time invested in traditional formats.
3. Provide Meaningful Context: The brain is wired to seek patterns and make connections between new information and existing mental frameworks. Think of the places where you can use a skill before you start learning it. While learning keep time to build the connection with your day to day work. Keep time to reflect and discuss your ideas with friends.
A skills shortage – not a labor shortage
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) global life expectancy was 64 years in 1990. The global average is closer to 73 years now. There are several countries where the average longevity is higher than 80 years.
Governments have to rethink their strategy on how to encourage people to learn at all ages. That also means that we need to rethink our assumptions about learning.
Read more: The skill shortage
So don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old to learn. You’re never too old to learn how to play the guitar, speak a new language, or do a backflip. Well, maybe not the last one. But you get the idea. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s superpower. Use it every day