Emotions in Learning - A Lesson from the Somme

I'm off to the Somme this summer. A special birthday trip for me. And 2016 also marks 100 years since my Great Uncle Charlie was killed during the infamous 'Battle of the Somme' of the First World War.  It'll be my second visit.

Before my last trip, to be honest (embarrasingly) I wasn't that bothered about the First World War. I remember doing a bit about it at school. The Western front. Kaiser Bill. The trenches. That was about it. And Uncle Charlie was just a name my Mum had mentioned. A face in an old photograph. Someone I never knew or ever really thought about.

And then I went. I stood where Uncle Charlie had stood on the front line before he went 'over the top', imagining how he must have felt. I read the war diary for his battalion for the day he died which notes "Other ranks killed, wounded or missing - 375". I saw his name etched among 72,193 others on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval.

It was a revelation for me. I was totally absorbed and had so many questions... What was the soldier's experience like? Why did men volunteer? How were people affected back home? Why did the war last so long? I learnt... and I can remember... a lot.

So what made the difference? What brought about such a drastic change in my knowledge, enthusiasm and what I can still remember 5 years on? It was the emotional connection.

The impact and importance of emotion in learning is now widely acknowledged. Emotion drives our attention. It gives something meaning for us. And importantly - it creates our most powerful memories.

Research has repeatedly shown that when something has emotion associated with it - we remember it better. Do you remember your first day at school? The day you got your first job? Your wedding day? The day your first child was born? My guess is that you remember these days pretty well. You probably have quite a clear picture in your mind, and can remember the sights, sounds and feelings you experienced on that day.

Now, do you remember the fourth day after each of these days? Your fourth day of school or a new job? Your fourth day of being married or becoming a parent? A bit more tricky maybe? The picture may be a bit less clear. Not a very strong memory. And that's no surprise - there were probably fewer powerful emotions associated with Day 4, compared to Day 1 - hence you remember less.

So what does this mean for us in our workplace learning? We need to get emotional! We need to get the 'emotional brain' of our learners involved in our learning. Make them care.  Make it enjoyable.  And make it memorable. Because when it's memorable, our learners remember more, and they are much more likely to use more of what they have learnt. Which is ultimately the whole point.
Like some help to actively build emotion into your learning, and make it truly memorable? Contact us on abby@abbyoateslearning.co.uk