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Happy Students Learn Better! Foster Positive Emotions in Every Course You Make

“First there is emotion; after that comes cognition,” said Frank Thissen, a Multimedia Didactics and Intercultural Communication professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart, Germany. 

In the midst of a large research on the role of emotions in eLearning, Professor Thissen further explained that while negative emotions tend to make us clearly remember data including the minutest detail, positive emotions tend to help us remember more complex things. 

And this is what we’ve been trying to communicate for a long time: effective eLearning design should evoke positive emotions. If learners feel safe, happy, and fullfilled, they will actually enjoy learning. Don Norman, founder of Nielsen Norman Group, said it more eloquently.

“The problem is not the technology, the problem is that nearly all of the (eLearning) environments I know metacommunicate dreariness and boredom, and they only address the cognitive part of learning.”

He further explained the importance of positive emotions in eLearning: 

“It's only in the last couple of years, that people have studied the positive emotions. And the positive emotions are essential for learning. It turns out those are what drive curiosity and exploration, which is how we learn about the world.”

Several other studies suggest that happiness can influence academic success. Furthermore, they reveal that emotions significantly influence students learning strategies, cognitive resources, motivation, and academic achievement. However, these findings demonstrate that the current educational programs don't promote happiness. 

Clearly, now is the time for a paradigm shift. It’s time to bring back emotion and integrate it with cognition.

Here are some positive emotions you should start designing your eLearning for:

6 positive emotions   28 nov 01


 “Confidence is seen as the bedrock of all achievements as it inspires learners to progress,” says Dr Eldred. In your eLearning courses, make learners feel that they will succeed and control their success. They have to firmly believe they’re capable of achieving their learning goals.  

Here’s a list of strategies you can use to help learners develop confidence and persistence:

  1. Start each section by activating prior knowledge. Allow them to connect previous knowledge or experiences with that they’re currently learning. 
  2. Encourage them frequently. Be sure that they’ve actually earned your praise so that they don’t get offended. 
  3. Give students an idea of how far they have come. Show them that none of their efforts were wasted.
  4. Don’t overwhelm students with long tasks. Break it into smaller and more manageable ones.

Fun and Enjoyment

Do they actually like doing it because they enjoy it?  When learners do tasks because they're fun or in a state of flow, they will continue doing it even if they don't get rewarded. 

This is also called intrinsic motivation, which is the only kind of motivation that consistently works. But here's the thing. You can't force intrinsic motivation but you can, however, design an eLearning course for motivation. The keyword here is learner engagement, where you're giving learners just the right amount of challenge to match his or her level of skills and pace of learning.

Here are some more strategies you can use:

1. Tailor the content to meet individual learner's needs. Yes, it has to resonate with learners on a personal level.

2. Aim for purposeful fun. Think of it as a game that one can thoroughly enjoy without losing sight of the real goal.

3. Don't be boring, inject some sense of humor to your otherwise dry course materials. You don't have to get learners to laugh, it's enough that they get more open and receptive to new learning material.


There are things that provoke and increase interest. To name a few, there's compelling pictures, clear graphs, relatable examples, clear objectives, and challenging exercises. In short, content that stimulates students to think or act.

But there are also things that learners don't care about and things that decrease their interest. Here are some: too many details or information displayed at once, irrelevant data in tables or graphs and "filler" or meaningless visual elements. All of these bore learners. They don't offer any challenge or opportunity.

Beware of the pitfalls and focus on "activating" interest. Is your material actually interesting? Ask yourself the following questions to check:

1. Will learners be able to put this new knowledge to valuable uses?

2. Will they be able to understand something that has always puzzled them?

3. Will this help them discover hidden talents and dormant capabilities?

Credibility and Trust

Being perceived as trustworthy and believable is very important in the learning process. When learners trust and believe in you, they will likely invest time and other resources in completing the coursework. Otherwise, they'll easily walk away. 

Here's how you can gain the trust and respect of your audience.

1. Trust your learners. Don't treat them like idiots.

2. Always place the interest of learners first. Are you actually doing it because it's easy? Or are you making it easier for them to accomplish tasks? 

3. Sweat the small stuff. Errors, even the smallest ones, can decrease your material's perceived credibility.

4. Design clean and professional-looking interface. Your navigational buttons and fonts do affect learner's trust. 

5. Don't let technology frustrate your learners. Boost the speed of your content-heavy courses and avoid slow downloads.

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Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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