Make Your Hippo Dance

Corinna Ruhl

The hippocampus is the part of the brain in which learning resides. We need to 'Make Our Hippos Dance'!

Recent findings from neuroscience about how we learn were summarized by David Rock and others into the AGES model in 2010. The model outlines how Attention, Generation, Emotions and Spacing make learning stick by maximizing the activation of the hippocampus.


Attention is about focusing on one thing at a time. We can help learners focus their attention by making learning situations real and personal, varying learning techniques to provide novelty, using deadlines or other challenges to apply moderate pressure, and making information easy to digest.

How we use Attention

We vary our verbal and visual delivery often. We ask questions, encourage group discussion and activities, incorporate scenarios and case studies, show videos and tell stories.

We follow the 90/20/10 principle for planning how long participants are involved in an activity: 90 minutes is the maximum that participants can sit before they take a physical break (wash rooms, stretch, coffee); 20 minutes is the maximum that should be spent covering one topic or skill set; 10 minutes is the maximum that participants can focus on one mode of delivery (e.g. lecture) before tuning out.


Generation is about making maximum connections in the brain. Our memories are web-like and the more associations, the thicker the web and the easier it is to find the information later. It is important for learners to contextualize and personalize their learning. They should compare new knowledge with their existing knowledge.

How we use Generation

Training moves learners from the known to the unknown. Trainers incorporate questions to find out what participants already know and to expand, correct or redirect their thinking. Whenever trainers can ask a question rather than tell, they build confidence and cognitive connections that encourage to participants take the learning outside the classroom. Emphasizing transferable skills and knowledge helps learners build upon what they already have and increases positive outcomes.

People naturally learn through getting answers to What? So What? Now What? These questions help guide the training that we deliver. “What” provides the information; “So What” tells them why they need to know it, with a focus on how it will help them (and not just the organization); “Now What” provides simple action steps that are within the participant’s control so they can do something with their learning.


Emotions are the hook for learning; they burn learning onto the hippocampus. Emotional investment and stimulation answers the question, "Why does this learning matter to me?"

A moderate amount of negative emotion gets us connecting, but a large amount reduces innovation. If we want to use emotion for learning but don't want to stifle creativity or scare people off, we need to help learners experience positive emotions. The easiest ways to generate emotional rewards in a training program are by helping learners gain mastery of new tasks, giving positive feedback, and helping learners feel related by connecting deeply with one another.

How we use Emotions

We encourage learners to explore their own scenarios and to share them with others. By sharing stories, people relate. We work with learners and clients to reframe their experiences and situations in order to see the positives and build on strengths that already exist.

In our coaching practice, we use appreciative inquiry. Conventional approaches to problem-solving focus on what isn't working; appreciative inquiry asks the positive questions in order to get positive results. For example, "If this story had a happy ending, what would be going on? How can we get there?"


Spacing learning over time leads to better long-term memory, which is the goal of workplace learning. Cramming only helps us retain information in the short term. Organizational learning aims to effect sustained positive changes over time.

How we use Spacing

We encourage workshop participants to make an action plan at the end of each session to summarize what they have learned and make a concrete plan to use their new knowledge and skills. For example, our Face to Face Leadership workshop is 8 days long, but it is delivered 2 days per month over the course of 4 months. Participants make action plans at the end of each session to put their new knowledge into practice; they report back to their learning team the following month about progress that they made.

We also build “Extend the learning” components for clients to keep new concepts and tools front of mind: related content is delivered via email to participants in weekly or monthly doses.

Extend Your Learning

Do you want to learn more about the brain, training, and the AGES model? Check out the resources below.


Tag - Services: