Learning with Emotion
Naturally, normal people feel emotions. In both formal and informal learning, discovering something new typically leads to positive feelings of joy, while experiencing failure often leads to negative emotions and actions. Yet, even behavioral responses to emotions can be learned and unlearned. Thus, to ensure successful learning outcomes, we should use modern research in the psychobiology of emotion to design materials and instructional methods that constructively manage emotion.
Teachers and curriculum designers need to anticipate emotions and be able to provide products and services that adapt to individual needs and experiences in real time whether the learner is in pre-school, college, or professional development courses. We can use technology, multiple sensory modalities, inquiry, and knowledge transfer activities to keep the feeling of discovery alive. When emotions are positive, people can be completely engaged. They’re motivated by discovery about themselves and the world, and take a hands-on, self-organizing approach to their own learning. Such people become life-long learners who care about other people, too. They develop wisdom and compassion.
The chart below is adapted from Jaak Panksepp’s work in affective neuroscience. Panksepp’s research is focused on seven interacting emotional/behavioral systems that are common in mammals: seeking, lust, rage, fear, care, grief, and play. Seeking is a natural behavior for social and inquisitive creatures. Seeking is stimulated by its own reward—novelty. For example, a child who seeks and finds is generally a happy child; a person at play enjoys the activity. But seeking can sometimes lead to grief, fear or panic/withdrawal. When negative feelings disturb normal cognitive, perceptual and autonomic processes, the behavioral reaction is fight, flight, or withdrawal. Both new learning as well as the application of previous learning can be disrupted. From here, it’s easy to become angry; once it’s out of control, anger can also put an end to seeking. Fortunately, more productive behavioral responses to emotions can be learned given the right curriculum and pedagogy.
Danny Franklin is Six Red Marbles’ resident neuroscience expert and the prime mover behind the Natural Learning Approach™. He has a theology degree from Harvard, has studied Buddhism, and is a former Math teacher.
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