Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

11 January 2017

A Cognitive Audit?

Clark @ 8:01 AM

image of brainIn the recent Chief Learning Officer magazine, I wrote an article on the basics of the cognitive science of learning. Given the evidence that “L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should, and what it is doing it is doing badly, other than that it’s fine” (as I say), at least one of the potential barriers is that L&D isn’t truly aware of what science says about their profession.

And I truly believe that if you’re a professional, you should be aware of the fundamental scientific basis of your profession. Pilots need to know aeronautics, physicians need to know physiology, etc. And therefore, I reckon L&D needs to know the cognitive background. But there’s more.

Knowing a suitable level of cognitive science is one thing, using that to assess your practices is another. Too often, we have what we call ‘inert knowledge’: we know it, but we don’t apply it. That’s not helpful. What has to happen is that processes need to be evaluated, improvements identified, interventions prioritized, enablement enacted, and progress reviewed. It’s just part of being a professional!

There are other sorts of audits possible (I know folks who do performance audits, and knowledge audits, etc), but I’m increasingly thinking that the one that matters is the one that aligns with how our brains work. Not at the neural level (there’s little of impact there), but at the cognitive level. Note that cognitive science includes social, conative and affective components (e.g. the culture and motivation), and neural, for that matter ;).

This isn’t an academic exercise. The increasing competition enabled by technology already suggests that optimal execution is only the cost of entry, and continual innovation will be the only sustainable differentiator. Both are cognitive functions, and the best outcomes will only be achieved when organizations are acting in accordance with how we think, work, and learn. This is about equipping your organization to kick some proverbial tail.

I’m drafting an initial such instrument, with associated recommendations. I welcome your thoughts, and any interest in engaging around this.


  1. One of the reasons it is difficult for executives, managers, consultants and knowledge workers to perform COGNITIVE AUDITS, is because there is no knowledge science from which to understand what knowledge is, or how to understand the cognitive process. Knowledge science is not neural science, it is very different. Sure we can say that every neuron in the brain has the digital capacity of a 1 or 0. Yes/No. Right/Wrong. Connect/Don’t Connect. And that there are 100,000,000,000 neural bits of brain power that compose the brain per Scientific America, but how does the aggregated brain power translate into knowledge. That is the question of knowledge science and the basis of cognitive audits. I like the phrase.

    Comment by DLThomas — 11 January 2017 @ 10:31 AM

  2. DL, not sure if you’re for or against, but given the final comment, I’ll assume for. Yes, I think there are strong bases upon which we can develop and assess alignment with our cognitive function. It’s not simple or obvious, but there are reliable ways our cognitive functions manifest. These can be assessed and any deficits can be target with specific interventions.

    Comment by Clark — 11 January 2017 @ 2:21 PM

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