Increasingly, we’re seeing that emotion matters. Scientific evidence supports what we intuitively know. Yet, in many cases, our actions don’t support that understanding. At least, in nuance. In particular, our learning designs suffer from trivialized ‘like’ as opposed to useful and effective approaches. We can and should do better to tap into the power of emotion.
Again, I’m using the term ’emotion’ loosely here. While we do care about emotions like joy and grief (though our picture is changing), what we really need to be caring about are non-cognitive elements like motivation, anxiety, and confidence. It’s about designing to appropriately address them: develop motivation, keep a lid on anxiety, and build confidence. Each has it’s elements.
Motivation improves learning outcomes, but requires understanding what makes us interested. We’re driven by a desire to understand the world (c.f. ‘predictive coding‘. Curiosity can assist in developing an interest. Certainly, self-interest plays a role as well, and helping people tune into the positive consequences of a learning experience (or the negative outcomes of not having the requisite understanding) is also useful. Self-Determination Theory (c.f. Deci and Ryan) talks about mastery, autonomy, and relatedness. We can use this to help people connect with others (instructors/peers/experts), give them tasks (autonomy) and support to succeed (mastery).
Anxiety interferes, if it’s too much. While a small amount helps, that’s quickly overwhelming. Given that learning can be intrinsically anxiety-inducing, keeping anxiety to a minimum is important. Making it safe to fail is an important component of this. Psychological safety is an important element in organizational operation, and learning as well. We can not attach consequences to practice, certainly at first. We can also have the instructor make mistakes as well.
Building confidence is an adjunct here. As people master the skills, at greater and greater levels of challenge (an important component of successful learning experience design), they build confidence. That reduces anxiety, and maintains motivation. We don’t want false confidence, but we can steadily build confidence as we go. Ultimately, we want learners to have sufficient confidence to try out the skills (and succeed) after the learning experience.
There’s lots more that goes into making an experience effective and engaging, but understanding these elements, and how to enact them, is an important component. The power of emotion, properly harnessed, improves learning outcomes (which is what we should be about ;). I’ll be addressing these and more in my workshop Make It Meaningful at the upcoming DevLearn conference in Las Vegas on Oct 24. I’d love to see you there, as we talk about the complement to learning science that combines to achieve those experience goals.