E-learning design for social emotions

February 27, 2010

After spending so much time investigating the positive aspects of learning through social media, I wanted to start looking at the possible negative aspects. Here’s one that’s possibly problematic:

Our ability to show admiration and compassion may be declining due to our fast-paced digital culture.

Neural correlates of admiration and compassion is a study that explores the social emotions that define humanity – admiration and compassion. Brain scans show it takes longer to respond to admiration and compassion than to respond to signs of something like physical pain. There is greater cognitive processing involved in feeling compassion.

Does our fast-paced media culture (fueled by social media) mean we are becoming indifferent to the emotions of human suffering? Is it redefining our humanity? For instance, we flock to YouTube over and over again to view the death of a luger at the Olympics and say OMG! and then share that on Twitter so someone else can ‘re-tweet it’ and say OMG! and repeat it to the point that it spreads like a cancer. Or it ‘trends’. But are we ‘there’ long enough – in the moment – to display compassion? Do we allow enough time?

In the study, the researchers say:

The rapidity and parallel processing of attention requiring information, which hallmark the digital age, might reduce the frequency of full experience of such emotions, with potentially negative consequences.

This made me think of a highly emotional e-learning course about palliative care. (You can see a marketing demo of this course if you register.)

The course elicits strong emotions. In the demo you get an idea of it but I actually ran through the  course and it made me cry. E-learning that made me cry (for the right reasons).

Feeling emotions was something I previously would have said “no, that’s probably not good for self-paced e-learning.”

I think this course allows time to process feelings. The course guides the learner to assess situations on their own using various resources like charts, glossaries, video, etc. Learners don’t just pull out a mobile device and watch a video or YouTube clip of a suffering patient  and then go into the room to provide care (and there’s a process to that care).

So I guess what I’m saying here is that content that needs to tap compassion may need to be designed without rapid digital exchanges common to social media. I’m not stating fact. I’m putting it out there for consideration based on this one study.

Our ability to show admiration and compassion may be declining when it comes to rapid digital exchanges.

Don’t rule out e-learning for emotional content. Perhaps we just need to consider the time we’re allowing for a learners response.

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  • http://onehundredfortywords.com/ Judy Unrein

    Janet, great post! I had the privilege of viewing this course recently and I think you're right… it's an excellent example of how elearning CAN effectively deal with emotional content. Thanks for pointing out an element that helps this design deal with it effectively: the time allowed for processing both the intellectual and emotional content, as well. Brings to mind that that's a cultural factor, as well… you wouldn't want to do a course like this between phone calls in a call center or other busy environment!

  • http://twitter.com/iliveisl Ener Hax

    oh boy, emotions are another challenge similar to humour for international eLearning. from my experience in developing eLearning that goes out to 70,000 users in 110 countries, a prudent and thoughtful approach is key

    hopefully you have trusted associates in other countries as well as within your own organization that you can discuss this with

    an example that may be of interest is how Americans (and Canadians) deal with melancholy versus the Japanese. here (US/Canada) we tend to think of sadness as a disease and term it depression and prescribe happy pills to deal with a natural condition. in Japan, being melancholy “was” embraced as part of life and not treated as a disease

    thanks to a subject that i won't get on my little soapbox about, Japan now has been shown the error of their ways and how being chemically happy and adding profits to pharm companies is clearly the better way

    so in that example, showing a “sad” emotion would have different interpretations

    it is so easy to think that the world is the same as us, but it is not

    thanks for the great post (as always)

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    thanks for bringing up the international aspect. i took a class once where we discussed things like color and culture…something I really wouldn't have thought of before when designing e-learning. being an ugly, one-language american, I really thought primarily about language.

  • http://brainstorm.com.ua Petya Noname

    I think social emotion it like a greater impression of Virtual world?

  • Scott Johnson

    Hi Janet,
    Linked here through PLENK and I’m interested in the whole notion of the internet changing people’s behaviours. I personally don’t think people are any less compassionate as a result of exposure to the net. In fact, I’ve participated in a couple of online pilot courses titled Hope Studies (sponsored by the Hope Foundation: http://www.ualberta.ca/HOPE/) that demonstrated the power of online forums to support groups of caring individuals.

    As someone who lives too rural to attend f2f courses I have no choice but to inhabit the online educational world and I don’t see this as a restriction or a disadvantage. If I want quality, up-to-date course material, the net actually affords me more variety than I had growing up in a university town. The net also challenges me to communicate with clarity (or try) and that takes far more care than a simple conversation where I can read reaction, and correct for misunderstandings and unintended slights.

    I think you are right about how pacing of content can create or shatter mood. Frequent breakaways, frantic activity, loud or arousing sounds send a signal to “watch out”, be cautious! Compassion requires attentiveness and authentic presence. Care giving and dangerous situations require oddly similar attention levels and intensity of concentration. Rationally we can tell the states of being apart but it’s tough to design at the edge of two powerful behavioures. Is this a job for instructional design, choreography or musical composition? All three I’d guess.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Great points Scott. I also live in a rural area and have taken online classes. I think experience has given me better critical thinking and writing skills. On compassion on the web I see extremes. There’s a lot of really rude and hostile behavior on the web and also a great deal of compassion.

  • http://www.holiday-home-web-design.ajm7.com Holiday Home Web Design

    I think that perhaps our general over-exposure to disaster and gloom globally has dulled our emotional responses and compassionate natures.

  • Astropeachexperience

    Hi Janet,
           The internet gives everybody a voice. Some people like to take out their frustration out on others. (anonymously). Its therapy for them. On the much larger spectrum of conversation which exist more compassion than ignorance. Websites such as yours; Entertain greater possibilities and higher entertainment value.

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