November 21st, 2018
    Learning Management

The Simple Art of Using Emotion To Help Learning

Victoria Kossoff 3 min read

Thousands of years ago, Plato knew that learning has deep roots in emotion. Neuroscientists have proved him right through scientific research. Thanks to advancements in technology, we can now actually watch parts of the brain light up when we are learning. The key players in the brain that help us retain new knowledge and skills are the hippocampus and the amygdala.

The hippocampus works like a data drive. It’s like a drive that takes in learning and retains it until it out to the rest of the brain, which then goes into memory. And when the hippocampus lights up, our ability to focus on learning activities becomes stronger and more consistent.

The amygdala is a small subcortical structure that lies deep within the temporal region of the brain that sits just in front of the hippocampus. It is understood to be a centre for emotional memory. It not only calculates the emotional value of any situation but also interprets these sensory experiences. It’s often called the flight-or-fight centre of the brain. When faced with a negative situation, the amygdala decides whether you will dodge it or fight it. For learning designers, it is the boss. It determines whether the learner will remember the course with crystal detail or doze off midway.

So, we know that emotions, both positive and negative, have a profound and long-lasting impact on our memories however not to equal degrees. Dr Shlomo Wagner of the University of Haifa says that if the emotions are positive, you learn well. If you experience negative emotions, the learning may not be that effective.

Emotions Revealed

“A typical learning experience involves a range of emotions, cycling her around the four-quadrant cognitive-emotive space as we learn.”

Here are the four phases of any cyclical process:

Credit: Barry Kort Ph.D. and Robert Reilly Ed.D. You can read their full research paper here

As learning designers, we need to understand how emotions will influence learning, so we can give learners the best chance of changing their behaviour. If you are interested in reading more, Paul Ekman’s book “Emotions Revealed” is a terrific resource.

How does this help us?

When you design a course, it should not challenge or stress out a learner to the extent that he/she wants to run. It should create an environment where learners do not feel overwhelmed. For example, do not restrict navigation.

“If you force the learners to go through each screen at the start of an eLearning module the risk is they feel frustrated and focus only on how fast they can reach the end.”

How do you put emotions into learning?

  1. Ask yourself

“What do you want your learners to feel”? Further studies in neuroscience and positive psychology show that curiosity, delight and humour really light up the brain. Think about ways you can structure your content to get people’s attention and then consider ways to fire up academic emotions. To tap into this, you could include a fun game or an easy quiz that’s not too stressful to complete.

2. Use Colour

Another way to evoke emotions in learning is through colour. Yes, you heard it right. Every shade of colour has an effect on learners. Warm colours like red and yellow evoke happiness and optimism. But, it may also denote anger and danger. Blue has a calming effect. You need to be aware of colour psychology to be able to use it for your benefit. Take a look at this useful colour guide to understand the significance of each colour and how it evokes emotions.

Image courtesy of Cardiff University

3. Power of Music and Video

Music and videos are powerful emotional triggers. They can create the right mood, add drama, and provide an emotional cue. You just need to use it at the appropriate juncture.

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