Emotional Engagement: How Positive And Negative Emotions Affect eLearning

Focus On Emotional Engagement, Not Entertainment  

Gamification in the workplace engages employees on an emotional level. Games, however, only engage players on a whimsical level. Gamification motivates, while games simply entertain. I read an interesting article about this in The Wall Street Journal titled “Why Gamification’s Not a Game”.

In this article, Brian Burke discusses the difference between games (where the purpose is entertainment) and serious gamification (where the purpose is emotional engagement in the form of motivation). The focus here is the emotional engagement; exactly what you want to focus on in your eLearning.

Emotions Affect Learning   

Emotion is important because it “drives attention, which in turn drives learning and memory”, according to Robert Sylwester, Professor of Education at the University of Oregon. He explains, “School activities that draw out emotions -simulations, role playing, and cooperative projects, for example- may provide important contextual memory prompts that will help students recall the information during closely related events in the real world”.

This can be applied to eLearning and online training programs to spark emotional engagement. Scenarios and game-based simulations will draw out employees’ emotions and motivate them to complete training and be successful on the job.

Gamification emotionally engages employees when it creates an experience that is focused on achieving their goals. Sylwester says, “In that way, gamification adds to the employee value proposition by providing a more fulfilling psychological contract. When employees achieve their own goals, they become emotionally engaged. When the employees’ goals are aligned with the organization’s goals, everyone wins”.

Be Careful Not To Create Negative Emotions

Emotions are powerful, but Instructional Designers and eLearning developers should be cautious because emotions can negatively affect employee learning. If you’re not careful, you could repel learners instead of engaging them; all thanks to emotions.

For example, Connie Malamed, known to many in the industry as “The eLearning Coach”, wrote an article for ATD Learning Technologies Blog that explains how aesthetics matter more than you might think. Because emotions and cognition are interdependent, those course aesthetics can have a positive -or negative- effect on learning and engagement.

Like scenarios and game-based simulations that emotionally engage learners, aesthetics can enhance the value, increase motivation, and cause employees to avoid negative emotions. Appealing design (a cohesive theme, an attractive course layout, etc.) makes learners believe the course material is valuable so that they want to learn. They’ll see the pleasing aesthetic in your course, which will create an overall positive course experience.

What did I learn from these articles? Strategies like scenarios and gamification are effective in creating positive emotions and engaged learners, especially if the aesthetics support them. Games are fun and fine for entertainment, but gamification is what will seriously motivate and engage your employees. And those positive emotions will create a successful training experience.

For more articles on learning, course design, and more, check out the Everything eLearning Blog.

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