I have been watching a lot of superhero movies.  Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, even the Hulk provide me a lot of fuel for thought.  The biographies of many of these fictional characters are replete with narratives of lessons learned and relearned often not through the use of their super powers or acumen, but most often because of their human frailties and feelings.  It is the feelings that allow these superheroes to use their power for good and fight evil.

I often think that emotions play a large role in how we learn and what we learn.  I see this often in one of the classes I teach.  My students take a look at the subject matter and fear drives them to believe they cannot learn it and that they are incapable of being successful.  A different side of the same coin, self-confidence in a subject matter will make anyone feel like a Sheldon Cooper to that content.  (In case you don’t watch Big Bang Theory, that means uber smart.)  Emotions are often overlooked component to learning and learning environments.

New research on emotion and learning can give us some of the biochemical reasons how emotion impacts reason.  Research by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang from USC’d Rossier School of Education shows how emotion can be used by teachers to stimulate creativity.  She has even created curriculum for teachers to access these findings (http://www.learner.org/courses/neuroscience/index.html).  She explains that the “neuromechanisms responsible for feeling and managing the body’s physical survival and consciousness have been co-opted to also manage social survival” (mindshift blog, blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/how-emotional-connections-can-trigger-creativity-and-learning/).  In other words, the very feelings that help us survive in the physical world also help us navigate social setting such as learning environments.

So this week, I would like to challenge you to consider your feelings as you are learning something.  Do you experience excitement, concern, anxiety, or joy?  How do these feelings impact how you learn?  Can you interrupt your negative feelings, address them, and then move forward all at the same time?  If not, then how would you recommend that we as practitioners can motivate our students when they encounter strange experiences or unknown content area?  What personal experiences can you share about moving through feelings, whether positive or negative, to finally get at a learning experience?  Let us discuss…

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2 thoughts on “Learning and emotions

  1. Great post Jenny. We just had a bit of a conversation about that in the COSIA class. I shared my personal saga on getting over my fear culturally embedded fear of snakes. It has been a long time, but i finally had something clicking on my brain that I held a Python at the Avery House Nature center a couple weeks ago.

    I guess for me it was just a long gradual process through many free-choice experiences where I was exposed to snakes one way or another. It took time (different and repeated exposure), cultural shifts (kill venomous snakes vs. garter snakes are harmless) and social enterprise at many levels (seeing adults, individuals, groups, and kids interacting with snakes) to create some empathy. Free-choice learning got me here. Somehow the combination of all elements in this particular situation at the nature center were just right for me to take the step and magically something just clicked, fear went away.

  2. Jenny, great post and great coincidence as I was pondering the exact same question myself.
    When I learn I sometimes experience negative feelings when comparing myself to other learners – am I learning as well as they do? What is my informal rank in class? (There is no formal rank). Am I getting a response from the facilitator with her thumbs-up avatar or her regular avatar? (Even though there is no grades involved, one can derive them from the avatars the facilitator is using to comment).
    Luckily, I had a tool for turning away from comparing myself to others to comparing myself to myself since at the beginning of the webinar we had to write a paragraph on what we wanted to get out of it. When I turned my attention to the paragraph I had written, my focus shifted from “doing well in class” – come on, Olga, it isn’t even a class – to what I wanted to practice with, to learn more about.

    P. S. and my latest posts got thumbs-up replies, too.

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