Would you agree if I said, “Emotion is essential to learning.”?

I am in conversation with Shekhar Hardikar – the Academic Director of the ASSET Summer Programme (ASP). I tried to understand the relationship between emotions and learning from his perspective, and based on his observations at ASP as well as his extensive experience as an instructor of gifted students.

In her book titled “Emotions, Learning, and the Brain” Dr Immordino-Yang talks about how emotion is where learning begins, or, as is often the case, where it ends. Put simply, “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about,” she says.

Social-emotional learning or SEL is the process through which teachers prepare students to go beyond being just “job ready” and instead focus on making them “life ready”. The idea that students should be able to apply their knowledge in achieving personal goals, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Dr Immordino-Yang believes that the “E” in SEL or “emotion” is where learning begins, or, as is often the case, where it ends. Shekhar has seen this in action at the ASSET Summer Programme; as students participate in courses and activities that challenge them and have an emotional impact on their learning.

In his observation, this rule holds true even across subjects and disciplines, for example, even in academic subjects that are traditionally considered unemotional, such as physics, engineering or math, deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts.

As a teacher, he can confidently claim he knows what an emotionally engaged student looks like on the outside, as well as what he/she should look like on the inside as he/she experiences emotionally charged learning!

As he shares with me, “Scientifically speaking when students are emotionally engaged and if their MRI is taken at that point, one can see activations all around the cortex, in regions involved in cognition, memory and meaning-making, and even all the way down into the brain stem!”

During his time at the ASP, the academic team which involved the instructors, teaching assistants and advisors were aware that the best and most durable learning happens when a course’s content sparks interest, when it is relevant to a child’s life, and when the student forms an emotional bond with either the subject at hand or the teacher in front of them. Meaningful learning happens when teachers are able to create an emotional connection to what might otherwise remain abstract concepts, ideas or skills.

Creating this emotional connection is indeed a daunting task, but based on his experience and from the research in this field  “creating emotion” as a tool of learning for any course is the core of education for gifted! This has shown that the time, energy, course structure, planning, and other investments reap huge dividends in the form of increased learning and better retention of the concepts.

Shekhar experienced this a few years ago, with a parent who asked him, “How do I get my daughter interested in medicine while at school.”

The girl actually dreamt of becoming a researcher in pure sciences and wished to work with a noble laureate and everyone around her felt that her dreams were irrelevant.  Her dreams took shape when she was exposed to the “emotion” element in content at a high school credit course dealing with Chemistry!

This story is a perfect example of what emotional connection in academics can do to a student even when experienced for a short period of time like at a summer school/programme.

According to Shekhar, “This is the magic in ASP! This is what makes it the #BestSummerEver for students who are excited to learn and for the academic team creating these courses!”

While there are no golden rules in education, “emotional engagement” and “personal relevance” are important tools that have become the backbone to providing enriching experiences to all stakeholders at ASP!

So now would you agree now that emotions are integral to learning? Do you have any personal examples of how your own emotions or those of your students resulted in better learning outcomes?

Share them with us – we would love to hear about them!

Medha Agarwal

Medha Agarwal

I write about my passions - Education, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, in the Endless Pursuit of Usefulness.
Medha Agarwal