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

9 August 2010

Hit ’em in the gut first

Clark @ 1:22 PM

I’ve argued before that you need to emotionally hook learners even before you cognitively activate related knowledge.  I reckon that learners are more likely to be open to any manipulation you might provide if they understand viscerally why something’s important before they are informed cognitively.  Some new research might support this argument.

An article points to a theory proposed by two philosophers that interprets a broad range of cognitive phenomena in terms of human communication and argumentation. In particular, some reliable flaws exhibited in our thinking, such as confirmation bias, are hypothesized to exist because we’ve evolved to be able to argue for our beliefs. We argue, therefore we are.

This isn’t to say that we can’t evaluate arguments effectively under the right contexts (when we have no bias or when we’re searching for ‘the truth’), but that when we’re creating arguments we are likely to be suboptimal from a logical standpoint, but very good at trying to marshal the evidence in a particular direction when we care.  As the authors make clear.

My particular take on this, however, is that we should ensure to marshal a convincing case about why this learning is important or our learners may make a convincing case to the contrary.  Hook the learner’s interests and motivations, and the rest of the work will be easier.

And, of course, I’m making my case in the same way they argue we should, but that doesn’t undermine the quality of the reasoning ;).


  1. Do we need to convince the learners that the content is IMPORTANT or that it’s INTERESTING? I have to admit, I probably tend to err toward the second most of the time. People’s definition of “important” is pretty slippery — is it the CEO, the learner, the legal staff, the customer — or lil’ ol’ me, the designer?

    And even if they agree it’s important (think Sarbanes/Oxley or Poison Control) if you don’t make it interesting, it’s not gonna matter.

    Comment by Dick Carlson — 9 August 2010 @ 3:09 PM

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Dick. Actually, I try to do both important and interesting. My analysis says that there are two types of ‘relevant’ for the learner: realizing that this skill solves a real problem, and that it solves a problem I care about. You can separate those out. Whatever the goal is is fixed by the objective, but you can use different examples (depending on the skill) that are more appropriate for some audiences than others.

    Of course, I try to combine them into a motivating example that humorously or dramatically indicates the consequences of having, or not having, that skill. My twisted preference, of course, is to humorously indicate the negative consequences of not having the ability, but there are audiences and content for which that isn’t the right answer.

    Comment by Clark — 9 August 2010 @ 4:33 PM

  3. Clark,

    I think you make a good point. Having just come off a position at a marketing firm and getting back into an Instructional Design position, I have been thinking a lot about how to connect with people on an emotional level. Specifically, we used the Heath Brothers “Made to Stick” formula to develop sticky stories. It would be interesting to “weave” these concepts into training. (Actually, I think we already do it on a lot of levels, but to systematically focus on it would be new to me.) People make buying decisions on an emotional level 3 to 1 over a practical “need” for a product or service. I am guessing this is true for being open to learning.

    Comment by Lee Kraus — 10 August 2010 @ 4:52 AM

  4. What I try to do is give create context and challenge, which is another way of saying important and interesting.
    With every new piece we put out we put the context into the message about the learning and use as many communication channels as we can to deliver that message before the learning event occurs to create context for learners. Then make it hard enough so that ist’s challenging -or interesting.

    Sarbanes Oxley/Poison contral- I’d rather try those than Ethics!

    Comment by Rob Bartlett — 10 August 2010 @ 6:09 AM

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