With all the research in Neuroscience it has been proven that we are truly holistic in nature and as much as we would like to believe we can separate logic from emotions we can’t. They are hard wired together due to the nature of the organization of our brains and this provides us with a golden opportunity as educators. Ensuring that our course design addresses emotional states and the needs of our learnings will go a long way in ensuring engagement. When I look back at my experience as a learner I can’t tell you what I necessarily learned by paraphrasing the instructor but I can sure tell how I felt.
The connection between emotions, learning and memory were first brought to my attention by an instructor who used a unique way to demonstrate the aforementioned to our class. It was right after lunch and as adult learners do we were chatting casually at our tables, when in bounces (literally) the instructor in the wildest pair of shorts. As you can imagine we all sat there speechless, then he proceeded to help us unpack the experience. What did we think? What did we feel? What was the impact? His point was to draw our attention to how a moment such as this got our emotions moving and could be so memorable and impactful. And clearly, he was right! The discussion continued on about emotions and learning and how positive and negative learning environments can influence our learning experiences.
Another experience as a learner that had profound impact on me was when I wascompleting my Master’s program. Being an MBA program there was a wide array of learners in the program with varying degrees of experience and education. I didn’t stand out in particular way, but I do remember feeling like an imposter and that I didn’t have the right to be there. It led me to feel inadequate and fearful which ultimately was a roadblock to my learning. It was a struggle but I managed and muddled my way through. The success of graduating aided in overcoming this feeling but it still sticks with me and I endeavour to work hard at mitigate these feelings. This experience was valuable to me as an instructor as I’m sure that there are other students (that could be in my classes) that have similar feelings.
There is significant research in the field of emotions and learning which can inform our teaching practices in many ways. There is no doubt that emotions impact learning and particular remembering what we are learning. In terms of learning content, students are more likely to remember material in which they have made an emotional investment. (Barkley, 2010) This emphasizes the need to include authentic learning activities (e.g. role play, simulations) that mimic real-world experiences to help learners care about their learning as well as have an impact on their emotional experience in the class room. I am an advocate for creating a class environment of fun, humour, safety, and respect which I do by including exercises that engage learners to laugh at the light side of life but learn through the experience. My intention is to ensure the environment is a positive one that allows learners to explore and have an adventure in the class. This lends itself to creating an classroom community and an increase in learner engagement. I have had learners come up to me after attending a workshop or course I have taught and they will verbatim recite an experience from the class. This in itself is evidence that there is impact and provides feedback that helps me to keep building on what is working.
My experience of feeling like an imposter is more common than I had previously understood. Impostorship is the sense learners report that at some deeply embedded level they possess neither the talent nor the right to become college students. Students who feel like impostors imagine that they are constantly on the verge of being found out, of being revealed as being too dumb or unprepared for college-level learning. (Brookfield, 2006). I couldn’t agree more with Brookfield’s analysis of how an impostor feels. He also states that these emotions (which are negative in nature) can be silent killers to student engagement.
These two examples in regard to emotion and learning that I have shared appear juxtaposed in nature and both are of great value to my professional practice. They inform me that emotions can play a greater role in engagement than I may have previously thought and that paying attention to address learners emotional state in course design is extremely important. The notion that the affective domain stands apart from cognitive or psychomotor is incorrect in my opinion. In saying this, even if an objective may be stated as solely resides in one domain instructional strategies and activities should reflect holistic learning.
Going forward with my instructional practice, I will put in concerted effort to attend to the emotional state of my learners in my classroom (virtual or physical). I plan on spending time reflecting on the following: How will I know what learners need emotionally? What will I do to assess learners’ emotional states? What strategies can I employ to ensure that learning environments are positive? What do I do if I notice an environment changing and a storm of negative hits the classroom? What does this look like in way of learner behaviour? Taking into account learner preferences e.g. introversion vs extraversion, how will that impact course/lesson design? What do I know about impostorship? How will I identify it?
These questions will assist me in the construction of a positive emotion classroom. In addition, I will look into Emotional Intelligence in Teaching. Over the years this has been a topic of discussion in regard to leadership development but I do see its place in the world of education. It would be a great blog topic!
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher on technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass