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by Daniel J. Solove

I’ve been a teacher for the past 15 years, and I’ve taught in several mediums including live classes and computer-based e-learning. I have come to the conclusion that the most effective factor in education and training is fostering emotional investment.

Simply put, students must care about learning the material. The more they care, the more they learn.

The notion of getting emotional investment from students might sound like simple common sense, but it is often not done …and often not even attempted.

When I say that students need to care, I mean more than just care about the subject matter in an intellectual way. Students will certainly pay more attention if they find the topic to be interesting, but that will only go so far. Learning is not a purely intellectual process where people assimilate knowledge and information. Learning has an important and overlooked emotional dimension. Memories are most strongly forged when feelings are involved.

What generates emotional investment? The following things can help:

Experiences. People remember experiences. I remember not just the information I learned in school, but I still see the classroom. I can still hear my teachers. I can still remember the other students in the class. I remember where I learned and how I learned.

Stories. Stories are a great way to foster emotional investment. Stories humanize education. That’s why so much moral teaching is through stories. Stories show rather than tell, they make us care and remember.

Senses. People remember things based on what they sensed at the time, not just the information imparted. I learn things visually. If I can associate something with an image, I am much more likely to learn about it. Other people learn in a more auditory way — they recall things based on music that was playing at the time or particular sounds. The other senses matter too, and the more that senses can be invoked, the better, because senses affect the feelings people have.

Passion. When a teacher has true genuine passion for a subject, it can be infectious. When a teacher loves a subject, you can almost sense it, and it’s hard not to be swept up in that love story. I still remember those classes with teachers who had that passion — and these teachers weren’t necessarily the best lecturers. But they cared about the subject so much that they wanted others to care too. I felt it. And it worked — people really did care more, and the subject became alive.

Fostering emotional investment is quite hard to do. It can be very challenging with topics that are abstract. I constantly struggle to find ways to enhance emotional investment in my teaching, and I still have a lot to learn and a lot of improving to do. That’s because creating emotional investment ironically takes a lot of thought. It is hard to think of good stories, to help generate experiences, to invoke the senses, to convey that passion without sounding hokey.

Fostering emotional investment is not just the best way to a student’s heart, but also to a student’s mind.

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of training on privacy and security topics.  This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is an “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 700,000 followers.

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