June 2017

What is conscious awareness?

The CPD Standards Office explores the definition of ‘conscious awareness’, how the brain works and what it means in terms of businesses delivering CPD today.

You have woken up into summer and started your day reflecting on your emotions, relationships, goals which will now guide you next move accordingly. Your conscious awareness is in action.

The CPD Standards Office (CPDSO) part of the Professional Development Consortium, a research organisation is highly interested in this of area of neuroscience. Understanding the human capacity of ‘conscious awareness’ can help business leaders make better decisions on how to deliver great CPD at work.

‘Consciousness’, is defined by the oxford dictionary ‘the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings’ and ‘is a person’s awareness or perception of something’. Being aware means having knowledge of a situation that is in development. For example, being able to perceive someone else’s emotion and responding to it accordingly.

In a work place environment, we are constantly faced with people’s differing moods and emotions, backgrounds and cultures and making conscious decisions on how to react. By undertaking CPD we can become better equipped to handle these uncertain situations.

The unconscious brain

The unconscious part of the brain can be compared to the backend of a computer which no one sees (Engleman, 2016). When we learn new skills our brains use general-purpose cognitive software and as we practice them over time, our brains transfer the skill into specialized cognitive hardware (Engleman, 2016). In other words, we learn how to do new things automatically without thinking.  Our unconsciousness runs so smoothly we are unaware of its operations.

As we learn at work, it takes us a while to learn the skills we need to perform everyday tasks. When a new graduate starts their first day at work, they are given a spreadsheet data analysis task to complete but it might take them longer than someone who has worked on excel software for a long time. Again, if an IT manager introduces a new piece of technology there will be a period of complete inefficiency because people need time to learn how to use it. Staff need to go through learning experiences to find out how to complete tasks effectively. Once a new skill has been learnt and used every day, our brains then automatises it and it becomes easier to do.


Introducing something new into a situation triggers our conscious awareness. For example, spilling coffee on your top in the middle of a conversation is a distraction and therefore you become aware of what has just happened and make a reaction. Our brains are drawn to novelty because our unconscious minds have to react which raises our conscious awareness (Langer, 2010).

Introducing novelty into a CPD activity can have a number of benefits for raising conscious awareness and helps people to act mindfully (Harris, 2006). To explain this point, it is necessary to compare traditional education with education that encourages mindfulness. A traditional educational approach is defined as teaching that delivers instructions at the front of the classroom to students who are the receivers of information (Langer, 2010). This approach, a no-pain no-gain mentality, is static and free of context meaning students are less able to relate the facts to the real world.

In education that encourages mindfulness, conditional instructions are given to help students to understand the variability of outcomes based on their own perspective. Langer (2010) argues education that encourages mindfulness is more effective and more enjoyable.

Novelty can be introduced in education that encourages mindfulness (Langer, 2010) through class debates, quizzes and team building exercises so a learner can understand different perspectives and determine the conditions on their own.

Novelty in education can be delivered in different forms and can make lasting change on a learner’s ability to stay mindful in making future decisions. Blooms taxonomy (1956), a learning evaluation model designed to develop leadership skills says that highest form of learning is being able to evaluate and make critical judgements. That means, a leader must be aware of differing conditions and be able to make an informed judgement for the best outcome. Adapting the context of a student’s learning can therefore increase a learner’s ability to raise their consciousness.

Running a business with a conscience

Most of us run on autopilot every day, meaning we know what to do, when and how to without thinking about the task in hand. We become so accustomed to routine situations like driving to work, our brains make unconscious decisions to turn left and right without thinking.

In business, running a company without a conscience means that you are unaware of arising and potentially profitable opportunities or crippling challenges. Delivering CPD can help businesses operate with a conscience.

Nudge theory (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008) is a behavioural science theory which argues positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can help achieve non-forced compliance and motivate people to make better decisions.

Using nudge theory to increase staff engagement with CPD at work could mean adding a library and magazine area for staff to undertake extra reading, providing a meeting break out area for open discussions and promoting interesting seminars to attend after work. These CPD suggestions could raise staff awareness of the interesting CPD activities and motivate them to be more conscientious to undertake learning for work.

How leaders can relate conscious awareness to CPD at work

Leaders with heightened conscious awareness can provide many advantages in delivering CPD opportunities into the workplace. As a leader you need to know how to add novel learning experiences so staff remain interested and motivated. Running a business with a conscience means that as a leader you need to know the arising opportunities and challenges in delivering CPD. Being consciously aware of the quality of CPD means staff stay engaged and may contribute more creative ideas into the organisation.

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We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards,