How to Use Emotion in Digital Learning Design?

Emotion is something one may not conventionally associate with online learning. However, from a learning designer’s standpoint, emotion is a powerful tool. It can engage, reinforce retention, spark behavioural change and sometimes just make learning that much more interesting. While some things, such as establishing relevance will never go out of fashion, there are a lot of things you can do to bring up your online learning experience. On a general level, we could say that it’s better to spark positive emotions than negative ones, and that people associate easier with other people than things. However, to bring in a bit more practicality, here are a few examples on using emotions in digital learning.

Connecting to people with stories

Stories are a crucial element to sparking emotions. Good stories connect people on an emotional level. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the best practices of storytelling. Consider your online learning experiences not just as static courses, but as stories, with a predefined narrative. Stories always have their goals, i.e. what they are built to convey. That’s your learning objectives right there. When crafting your storylines, try to keep it relatable, positive, fun and something that would have a meaning to the learners.

Furthermore, it’s generally people that should be at the heart of the stories. As humans, we relate much easier to other people compared to things or abstract concepts. Therefore, your stories should too. Everything doesn’t have to be strictly factual, many stories are fiction! But having people as the centre objects or main protagonists of those stories will establish a more lasting emotional connection.

Empathetic experiences are often powerful

An important emotional aspect in digital learning is empathy. To maintain effective organisations, we should be able to empathise with each other and different contexts. In terms of instilling emotion in digital learning, some experiences are better in that than others. In general, role-play type of activities, i.e. putting people in their colleagues’ shoes can trigger an empathetic response. While there are a number of ways to simulate something like this, different role-playing scenarios have proven quite a popular medium. Nowadays, virtual reality can also be a powerful tool in assuming someone else’s role.

Design sparks emotion too

While stories and empathetic experiences are quite explicit in their nature, there’s a lot of small subtle things that can have an impact on our emotional response. Many of these deal with design. For instance, your choices for colours, images, visuals, cues and even mundane sounding things like navigation can all have an impact on the learners’ emotional response. While easy to overlook, focusing on the design aspects can bring you a lot of good. Aligning the learning experience with your branding can instil a sense of ownership and pride in your learners. Wording and image choices can turn a topic on its head. While there’s a lot to tackle in design, consistency remains an important factor. You should strive to make sure that your design aligns with the message you’re looking to convey, your learners as well as your brand as an organisation.

Final words

Emotion in digital learning, while often overlooked, is a great tool if you use it correctly. It can help in retention, behavioural change as well as making things relatable and fun. While there’s a lot you can do to spark emotions, it’s important to remain thought-out and consistent. A good design process never gets old!