Let’s say you’re in charge of creating a program that influences a change in behavior: reducing texting and driving among new drivers. You have the choice to either create a document that can be emailed to students, or to create a visual piece that gets your message across.
Which would you choose? A PowerPoint file that reviews reasons why drinking and texting is bad…
…or a wrecked car display at the school with a reminder to avoid texting and driving?
Which do you think will evoke more emotions?
Which do you think will come to the driver’s mind as he or she decides whether or not to text and drive? Why?
Emotions act as the framework that learners of all ages use to interpret meaning. They play a major role in defining our personalities. We make thousands of decisions every day based on our emotions. In his book Brain-Based Learning, Eric Jensen describes that emotions also have the ability to influence how we learn by:
- Helping us figure out what’s real and what we believe and feel
- Activating long-term memory; the more intense the amygdala arousal, the stronger the imprint
- Helping us make faster decisions by using gut judgment
- Helping us engage our values while making decisions
The old way of thinking was that rational decision-making was the way to go; eliminate feelings and let the pros and cons guide the way. But modern brain research casts a new light on the important role of emotions in learning and decision-making.
According to research by the Center for Development and Learning, the brain relies on emotions to drive action. The limbic system in the middle of the brain is where we determine and manage our emotions and behavior. In response to internal and external stimuli, the amygdala releases chemicals that stimulate our brain, which can help us process and remember information. When the limbic system receives information, it sets the “emotional tone” of the information before sending it to the cortex for processing.
When the brain interprets information as positive, it sends off a signal of purpose and excitement and directs our behavior toward a goal. The result is motivated learning, thinking, and enhanced memory. But when information is interpreted in a negative manner, chemicals are released in the bloodstream that produce a range of stress-related bodily responses, like sweaty palms, internal tension, and increased blood pressure. These emotions often prevent us from learning and remembering.
Trainers and educators can enhance learners’ ability to absorb new information by consciously allowing emotions to help shape their experience instead of shutting them out. Here are some ideas for incorporating emotional aspects of learning into your curriculum.
- Provide projects that are personally meaningful to the learners.
- Design a classroom environment that’s comfortable and allows for non-threatening collaboration.
- When reviewing goals for learning, ask your learners why they want to reach them, and encourage them to share their answers with other participants. According to Jensen, “It is the emotions behind the goals that provide the energy to accomplish them.”
- To minimize stress, make sure helpful resources are available for every learner.
- Try to engage as many senses as possible. When multiple senses are engaged, the brain has a very rich learning experience.
- Encourage learners to discuss feelings and emotions that relate to the new material.
Is emotional learning part of your training program? Ask us how we can help.