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As eLearning professionals, it’s important that we understand how the mind works. We often talk about how to take advantage of the brain’s intellectual processes to help learners process and mentally grasp the concepts in question, but something that often gets overlooked is the other “side” of our minds: the emotional side.

Though understanding concepts on an intellectual level is very important, we shouldn’t neglect how a course makes the learner feel. Depending on the subject matter, attaching an appropriate emotional feeling to a course or a specific part of a course really pays off as it stimulates multiple areas in the brain, creating stronger connections to the material.

Here are some tried-and-true methods for getting an emotional reaction from your learners.

Relatable Stories

Everyone loves a good story. Extra emphasis on the word “good.” If you’re rambling on and on about some odd lump of food matter you found while flossing, be prepared to lose your audience, real quick. With very few exceptions, your routine dental hygiene woes do not make for great story material.

A good story should be pertinent to the subject at hand. It should make you think,  and you should draw parallels between the story, the subject, and your own life. When you invest yourself in a story, and identify with at least one of the players involved, you’ll find yourself naturally reacting and relating as the tale unfolds.

Visually Engaging

You don’t need every course you make to be a masterpiece of renaissance proportions, but it should be pleasant—or at least interesting—to look at. Simply put, if the course looks bad, you’ll put a sour taste in the learner’s mouth, which will undermine your message. You don’t want your learner so held up by the aesthetics of your course that they can’t focus on the message you’re trying to send.

Feeling Something is not the Opposite of Thinking Something

We tend to put logic and reason on one shelf and emotions and feelings on another. But that’s not always true. Our emotions serve a purpose by attaching an instinctual judgement call on a certain thing, person, event, or concept. If you were walking alone through a dark forest and suddenly heard a twig snap behind you, you might have a bit of fear. Your fear may or may not be justified, but given the information you have (I’m in a dark forest, I’ve heard stories of dangerous things and people lurking in forests, something moved behind me), your brain decides it’s better to be safe than sorry and gears you up for a fight or flight response.

Other emotions have purposes as well. In the realm of eLearning, you can take advantage of this by attaching appropriate emotions to certain content. In a safety course for example, it might be appropriate to use a little bit of fear. Now that doesn’t mean that you should be doom and gloom, fear-mongering, and implying that everything and everyone is out to get you. But a healthy level of fear allows us to respect the power of the tools we work with and the associated risks. For instance, I don’t have a fear of heights. On the contrary, I enjoy the feeling of being in high places. But I do understand that I need to be cautious when I’m up there, as a misstep could maim or kill me. That little bit of rational fear allows me to respect the–ahem–gravity of the situation.

Better writing

If you’ve ever watched a movie, or read a book, you can probably tell the difference between good and bad writing. Even if you don’t have an extensive vocabulary, or aren’t well-versed in the rules of grammar, you can still sense that something is “off” about sloppy writing.

A learner can sense this too. If the writer clearly doesn’t have a command of the language, it’s harder to empathize and understand the point they’re trying to get across. Do yourself and your learners a big favor and learn all you can about the language you write in. Read a lot, especially writing you would like to emulate. After a while, the mechanics of good writing become clearer and your craft will be honed. Your learners will thank you for it.

What are some ways you use to illicit an emotional response to your courses? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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