Learning design has to account for students emotions and not only provide a journey through learning content. Do you agree?

Written by Staff Writer

June 10, 2021

Emotions impact learning: Implications for design.

The demands and pressures of “covid times” have resulted in a variety of emotions among online students. In this context, a study conducted in 2016 on how emotions impact studying is relevant. Perhaps we can extrapolate the findings, given the covid context?

The study, published in the journal of higher education [1] focused on three emotion clusters. These were identified, as being pertinent to three types of students, namely those who: (1) are quickly progressing, successful and are students experiencing positive emotions, (2) quickly progressing successful students experiencing negative emotions and (3) slowly progressing students experiencing negative emotions.

The results of the study indicate that it is not enough to focus on supporting successful learning, but that attention should also be paid to promoting students’ positive emotions and well-being at the same time. Despite the central role that emotions play in different transitions, the focus of research in higher education has tended to be on the cognitive and motivational aspects of learning. The emotional component needs to be given special attention given the current rise in mental health issues and this has implications for learning design and for how we provide learning journeys for students.

The value of instructional designers attending to student’s “approaches to learning” also has bearing. Students who apply a “deep approach” to learning, are students that intend to understand and to construct meaning in the study material or content through adopting learning strategies (e.g., relating ideas or using evidence) that help them to realise their intentions. The surface approach, on the other hand, is related to memorising without aiming at understanding and thereby acquiring fragmented knowledge structures (Marton and Säljö 1976; Entwistle and McCune 2004). This is usually aimed at passing an assessment.  The third approach to learning, labelled “organised studying” refers to the ability to manage time and effort (Entwistle and McCune 2004). It is very close to self-regulation, similarly focusing on planning and monitoring.

The approaches to learning described above, appear to be related to students’ study success and more importantly, the learning strategy that students select, seems to be based on emotion. According to Pekrun and Perry (2014), emotions have a profound effect on the use of different learning strategies and on the motivation to persist and achieve learning goals.

In terms of the practical implications, the Postareff study suggests that students should be encouraged to maintain positive emotions through the creation of safe and supportive environments. Although the students in cluster 2 referred to above, succeeded well and progressed quickly, they had experienced a great amount of frustration, confusion and anxiety that could have a negative impact on their well-being. The students in cluster 3 who experienced a sense of incompetence the most strongly, achieved limited success in their study efforts and progressed slowly.

Learning design, therefore, has to account for students emotions and not only provide a journey through learning content. We know this. Also, this attention paid to emotion has an impact on how much students will learn and on their sense of competence and self-efficacy. At CPS, the use of proprietary design methodologies such as RAMPED ™, take emotion into account, including emotions in self-talk and mindset. Students are set up for success by attending to these important factors in a manner that is embedded from the outset in the learning design. We foster deep learning to #Change Tomorrow.


[1] Postareff, L et al. The complex relationship between emotions, approaches to learning, study success and study progress. High Educ (2017) 73:441–457

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