Learning Design in the Age of Emotional Intelligence

Sunday, October 07, 2018 4:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Kristen Wall

How many times have you attended a training and been more impressed by the caliber of the donuts than the content you sat through? How often do you attend a training and find the presenter engaging and entertaining, but a week later you don’t remember a single point they were trying to make? Learning and development professionals spend a lot of time thinking about how to deliver content effectively in a way that ultimately changes behavior, but too much of the time we are focused on head knowledge. We spend so much time measuring how much they’ve learned, we don’t consider the possibility they might be transformed. In order to experience transformation, we have to have space for emotional engagement and critical reflection. 

Emotional engagement doesn’t mean bringing the whole room to tears or causing your participants to question their very existence. It just means bringing a level of awareness to how your feelings and assumptions change. How often do we present a difficult subject and breeze through it as if this was an informational seminar and not a possibly emotionally disruptive situation?  What if we acknowledged participant feelings and affirmed that, as trainers, it’s difficult for us as well?  If we can acknowledge that the conversation is hard without making the conversation all about our own feelings, we develop trust between us and the participants. 

One aspect of emotional intelligence is developing empathy.  As we prepare our learning activities, is it possible to take a few minutes to review the material from the perspective of 3-4 people/role types that you know will be participating?  Is there information that potentially changes their job?  Has an impact on their workflow?  Are there opportunities for participants to go through a similar exercise of trying to imagine the impact of the training from others’ perspectives? 

Another aspect of emotional intelligence is becoming aware of feelings.  Are there points in the learning activity where you can ask participants how they are feeling and how those feelings are manifesting in their bodies?  The question doesn’t need to be answered aloud, but it does permit people time to stop and check in with themselves, potentially de-escalating the intensity of their feelings and making space for critical reflection. 

Are there points in the learning activity where it would be appropriate for participants to engage in critical reflection and talk about how our assumptions have changed as a result of the experience?  Too often we walk into a learning activity (literally or figuratively) and assume we already know the content that will be presented.  A good learning experience has the potential to cause participants to recognize their assumptions and filter them through the learning experience to see if those assumptions are still correct and serve the person well.  Finish a learning experience by giving participants the opportunity to share what they believed before the experience, how their assumptions changed, why their old beliefs were not helpful any longer, and what they believe now.  Going through that process creates fertile ground for new beliefs and ideas, but it also empowers the participants to look through other experiences with fresh eyes and creates opportunities for more conversation. 

We live in a time where people are demanding more emotional intelligence and critical reflection from their leaders.  Creating learning activities where participants are given the freedom to develop these important skills contributes to the health and learning of our organizations.


Kristen Jensen Wall is a Learning and Development Professional with almost 20 years of experience in Higher Education.

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