Article • April 28, 2019

What’s in a name? The meaning behind Salience Learning

"What’s in a name? The meaning behind Salience Learning" blog post image

What does Salience mean?

A red dress in a sea of black. The sound of fingernails on a chalkboard in a quiet classroom. The smell of a gas leak on an otherwise normal afternoon (watch out for that one)!  Salience means standing out from someone’s or something’s surroundings. 

Salience is triggered by novelty or unexpectedness or can also be created by shifting one’s attention to a feature.  In other words, something becomes salient when something is noticed, its importance is recognized and it can be recalled again in the future. It makes sense then that being salient, or memorable, is an important part of learning. 

In fact, there is a whole theory of learning called The Salience Theory of Learning. A simplified summary of this theory is that our brains constantly create and organize basic units of learning called amalgams, that are in essence neural entries or, for lack of a better term, memories. These memories are stimulated by salient events (i.e., those events or information that stand out).  As our brains try to fit these memories together in a scaffolding of sorts, we build off of them to learn new skills and do familiar tasks more efficiently. 

The implication for learning is broad but two themes are important. These themes are that we need to design learning activities that simultaneously:

  1. Stand out enough for participants to create new memories
  2. Enable these memories to tie together with each other—and with past memories—to help form new skills

Unfortunately, most training misses the mark.  It either overwhelms participants with too much information and/or fails to make the most important information stand out. Basically, nothing is salient.

Why did we choose Salience Learning as our name?

Our name therefore has a dual meaning. 

First, it serves as a constant reminder that any learning we create must stay true to the principles and theories of the science of learning.  Think of it like applied academia. Practical application built on a foundation of science and evidence. 

Second, we want to stand out.  Specifically, we want to be known for applying the science of learning to the business of science to solve the life science industry’s most challenging business problems.