Both the learner and the learning experience (i.e., the training) must be focused on invoking the brain’s natural learning cycle. 

What is the Brain's Natural Learning Cycle?

A new and clearer understanding of how the brain creates permanent memories suggests that the brain’s natural learning cycle involves four sequential, distinct and essential steps:


Step 1: Gathering Information 

Step 2: Reflection and Insight Formation

Step 3: Creation of Personalized Ideas

Step 4: Active Testing

This is how we build new memories. Each step uses or invokes a different part of the brain. All four steps are needed to drive real behavioral change and performance improvement. Research suggests that this learning science is the key to more effective training.

Typical training methods, whether it is a lecture, reading assignment, or individual e-learning session, do not enable the brain’s natural learning cycle. It's not hard to see why these methods are not effective. 

Without all four steps engaged together, minimal to zero long-term behavioral change or skill development can be expected. (Zull J. E., 2011) 

The good news is, when it comes to learning and training design, we can intentionally harness this knowledge. Any content, even a one-hour lecture, can be reconstructed to be incredibly effective when aligned with all four steps, creating an environment of maximum engagement for the student.

Working to engage each of the four stages in the learning cycle can drive improvements in your training results and, ultimately, your training ROI.


* Based on the work of biology and biochemistry Professor James Zull’s From Brain to Mind – Using Neuroscience to Guide Changes in Education and his earlier, The Art of Changing the Brain – Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of the Learning.

What to do next: 

If you're looking to improve enterprise performance, you may be wondering about the steps you can take to improve the way you deliver training and increase the likelihood that learners will remember and successfully apply new skills.

You can start by downloading sageCrowd's whitepaper The Brain's Natural Learning Cycle: Implications for Skill Development.

(Psst: If you're not a training professional and simply an individual looking to improve, all these steps apply to your own learning process, too!)


Zull, J. (2002). The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Sterling, VA, USA: Stylus Publishing.

Zull, J. E. (2011). From Brain to Mind: Using Neuroscience to Guide Change in Education. Sterling, VA, USA: Sterling Publishing.

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