NLP Research in Learning & Education

Many of you, our wonderful graduate Practitioners, have incredibly rewarding careers which involve enhancing the knowledge and learning capability of others, as teachers, trainers, instructors and coaches. You work with individuals and groups of all ages, from primary level to adult learning and impart knowledge, skills and techniques across a wide rainbow of colourful subjects.


The world and profession of NLP is evolving at an exciting pace and the NLP community is now responding positively to calls for robust research into the vast array of practical uses that NLP has been applied to. Today, I’d like to share with you a brief summary of one such research activity, so that you can get a real feel for the wealth of evidence that is emerging in support of the efficacy of NLP. We know that NLP works and the academic community are now receiving that message loud and clear!


The research paper has been produced by a heady collaboration of NLP professionals. John Carey of Still Point Solutions Ltd, Richard Churches, Geraldine Hutchinson and Jeff Jones of the CfBT Education Trust, Paul Tosey of the Surrey Business School and John West-Burnham of St Mary’s University College.


“The paper summarises evidence from the CfBT Education Trust teacher-led action research case studies. Twenty-four teachers followed the Teacher Learning Academy framework in designing and implementing their action research. All of the case studies describe teacher perception of positive impact in relation to professional development, with many demonstrating positive impacts on pupil learning outcomes and attitudes to learning.”


If claims about some areas of NLP (such as the use of influential verbal and non-verbal language and emotional state management) are correct then research into the use of NLP may have much to offer in helping to fill some of the gaps in our understanding of ‘how’ effective teachers do what they do.


Each school involved in the project nominated two teachers willing to work together to build on their current understanding and practice. None of the teachers involved had prior experience of NLP. The approach used was that the teachers should learn NLP by experience. Whilst there was some common curriculum content the emphasis was on participants gaining a personalised experience of NLP in practice. The principal teaching approach was to model NLP practice and coach each individual participant as they developed their knowledge, understanding and skills.


Teachers were positive in their comments across the full age range from Nursery classes to Year 13 students. There is also a spread of contexts from small rural primary schools to large, urban secondary schools. Although there are some variations in the extent to which teachers found training in NLP useful, all of the case studies indicate evidence in relation to either the development of interpersonal skills (the ability to communicate with and influence others) or intrapersonal capacity (self-management and personal capacity and the management of emotions). In many cases teachers have also reported significant change in the behaviour of both individual children and classes. Even where one teacher had been unable to note specific effects on class behaviour they still nonetheless were able to identify improvements in their own feelings about their capacity to deal with classroom situations.


One teacher reported significant impact suggesting that he ‘can understand the children I teach on a whole new level’. Similarly, another reported that ‘the impact of the support received has been phenomenal and life changing’.


Benefits in relation to the use of anchoring as a way of giving covert classroom management instructions (e.g. always using the same piece of music to indicate the time to tidy up) are discussed by many of the teachers involved.  One teacher in particular, took her use of anchoring further to support creating the right learning environment and writes that:


‘I choose a piece of music to play so that when the children come in from lunch and hear it they know that they don’t sit in their usual place on the carpet but make a circle on it, very quietly, ready to find out who the new star is. This works really well, I don’t need to say a thing and it is wonderful to see.’


Another case study on the use of anchoring, discusses the extensive use of a range of spatial anchoring techniques, to enhance teacher presentation skills.


‘Spatial anchoring has exceeded my expectations regarding how well it has worked. My classroom is calmer and more settled without the need to raise my voice to get pupils’ attention and I no longer get a half-hearted response when I want them to halt their activities.’


As far as we are aware from our literature review, the evidence across these case studies represents the first of its kind in relation to the use of anchoring to manage behaviours in the classroom and in relation to whole class ‘conditioning of responses’. Although, the use of signals for attention frequently appears in behaviour management training, NLP appears to offer significant insights into the need to be consistent in relation to the stimulus used, its context and the potential of associating that stimulus with a particular emotional state rather than just behaviour.


Anchoring with individuals to help children manage their feelings and emotions by utilising past positive experiences and relating them to a future activity is also discussed, along with the benefit of using anchoring to support the alleviation of test anxiety – an application of NLP also supported in the literature study (see e.g. Stanton, 1998). The impact of paying attention to non-verbal communication (such as voice tone and body language) are discussed by another teacher, whilst another similarly points to the benefits of such approaches in relation to the enhancement of relationships with other members of staff as well as children, and makes specific reference to the benefits of developing sensory acuity and the observation of eye accessing cues.


The use of influential language patterns to support both learning and behaviour is viewed consistently as having had an impact. As in the literature review evidence, the benefits of understanding the structure and use of influential language patterns and suggestion, as derived from studies of hypnosis and therapy (Milton model), emerged across most of the case studies.


‘… the effect upon my teaching and classroom management is significant and I can now create the way I want to feel using designer states. I am more relaxed and confident in class and as a result the children appear more settled and thus we had a more positive environment.’


One piece of research sought to apply the concept of eye accessing cues and the notion of visual spelling strategy to the teaching of reading. Reported benefits in applying this strategy to children who previously had limited flexibility and a largely ineffective phonetic approach to reading, are paralleled in the research evidence into visual spelling and eye accessing cues at De Moncton University in Canada and at the University of Utah.


‘The impact on pupils in terms of their learning and behaviour has been brilliant. The child I used as my research target improved her spelling ability and became more confident. She began to use the way she recalled her spellings to help her remember other areas of the curriculum and her parents were very pleased with her progress.’”


For me personally, it’s a great compliment to all of the NLP Professionals working in the world today, that rather than let thinking that was created in the 1970’s lose its sparkle and fizzle out of existence, interest is actually becoming greater and experimental evidence is being meticulously gathered to support its claims. We know that NLP works, soon, the rest of the world will too!