Brief Review: Enhancing Resilience through Learning

Enhancing resilience by changing behavior is important, but difficult. An easier way to do it might simply be through learning. Find out here what the literature indicates is possible, and most effective, when it comes to an education for greater resilience.

Author: Tyler Phillips, Research Psychologist and Lead Content Specialist

How can we get more resilient? We know why we should: Resilience protects us against burnout and decreases the severity of (or risk for) depression and anxiety. Greater resilience also tends to mean a greater capacity for high performance in the workplace, reflected by improvements in job performance, job satisfaction, and engagement, and reductions in absenteeism and turnover intentions. Knowing that it’s in our best interests to enhance our resilience is one thing, but knowing how to do it is another – and knowing how to do it easily is perhaps a bigger challenge still. 

We do know that there are many behaviors we can work to change, cultivate, and prune that can enhance our resilience. Although this is great news, it comes with a notorious catch. Changing our behavior is difficult. Taking new steps day by day, with discipline, patience, and perseverance until we adjust our habits sustainably is no walk in the park. It’s a journey that may certainly be necessary for some of us, in some areas of our lives, in order to be healthier and more resilient. But is it the only way we can experience a boost to our resilience? Isn’t there something a little less demanding we can do that still delivers a meaningful impact to our ways of life? 

An answer may have to do with learning. Resilience actually has it built into its definition, because in the process of overcoming a stressor, a resilient brain-body system learns from how it adapted – so that it can overcome similar and even more challenging stressors in the future. Learning is at the heart of the ‘bouncing forward’ capacity of resilience. It is also a crucial component of the capacity for high performance, or for holistic thriving, because learning is what enables us to develop and succeed in life. 

Let’s also remember that the cultivation or changing of our behavior (for the purposes of enhancing our resilience and capacities for high performance) entails a learning process. It might be possible that we can enhance our capacities simply by taking in and understanding new knowledge – without necessarily accompanying this new understanding with the effortful forming of new habits and breaking of old ones. 

That being said, not all methods or techniques for learning are equally effective. Additionally, most adults who may want to learn for enhanced resilience also need to find a way to slot that learning comfortably into their already busy schedules. So, this ‘education for resilience’ must be both effective with its method and economical with its time requirements.  

As it happens, a couple of researchers in education and information technology recently tested three methods of delivering a learning intervention to enhance ‘psychological capital’ – a meta-capacity that consists of hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and of course, resilience. They wished to see which of the three methods (face-to-face learning, online learning, or microlearning) would provide the best results for improving psychological capital in their sample of over 220 working adults in the USA. Besides happening in-person versus over the internet, the face-to-face and online learning methods were identical in that they provided participants with the same educational intervention in one single 3-hour sitting. The microlearning method, however, presented one module of the same intervention per week, over a period of 6 weeks, to the participants via a mobile app. Participants’ psychological capital was measured before and after the educational intervention. The researchers also wanted to see if there were any differences between the methods-groups in how successful participants were in achieving a personal goal they set for themselves at the start of the intervention.   

The results of the study showed that microlearning, compared to the other two methods, provided the sharpest immediate improvement to participants’ psychological capital. Also, participants in microlearning tended to rate their successful goal achievement more highly than those in the other two conditions. This makes sense, since with the microlearning method, participants had time between the staggered delivery of the modules to implement the things that they learnt in the service of achieving their goals, while those who participated in the face-to-face and online interventions did not have this opportunity.

The fact that microlearning emerged as the most effective learning method for building psychological capital is perhaps not surprising. As a mode of delivery, it most closely resembles the way we communicate and consume other kinds of information today: in multiple short bursts. Moreover, by breaking down complex information into smaller chunks, spaced out over time, microlearning can be appreciated as a form of ‘distributed learning’. This technique has been shown to be superior for committing new information to memory

Crucially, this study provides us with a promising departure point for enhancing resilience. It’s not just because resilience was one component of the psychological capital that was enhanced by microlearning. More so, it’s because, in the development and validation of the Neurozone® Resilience Index, two other components of psychological capital – self-efficacy and optimism – were actually found to be integral parts of resilience itself. 

It may be, then, that simply by learning about resilience and everything involved in it (e.g., the neuroscience of the brain-body system, the stress response versus the baseline relaxed physiological state, and the biology of living systems like organizations and societies) – and by undertaking this learning in spaced-out, small but significant chunks – we could actually enhance our resilience. We could do so without necessarily having first to cultivate enduring behavioral change. Perhaps by getting more resilient just through learning, that behavioral change could even become more accomplishable.   

How can we help you?

We specialize in training professionals who use a coaching approach to optimize their people.

Contact Cuan Macnab-Holding, Neurozone Consultant: Business Development & Organizational Resilience




Similar posts