The Importance of Emotions In The Learning Process

Virtual reality, animation and gamification are the stand-out performers in digital learning environments. Whilst these relatively new technologies are not ubiquitously established tools across the board – yet – researchers agree that the emotional provocation they offer can significantly enhance learning.

The fact of the matter is that immersive technologies make experiences feel real. This can have phenomenal impacts on the capacity to learn new skills and retain information. Animated visuals prompt an emotional response that impacts the psycho-biological system in terms of perception, reasoning and memory.

We’ve known for some time that emotions influence our cognitive processes and behaviours. More recently, researchers have recently found a correlation between emotional states and the ability to learn. For example, a relaxed state – induced by methods of learning that are fun – enhances the capacity for learning and memory retention. Engaged students are more focused and naturally put in more effort. The opposite is true in stressful or boring environments.

Studies in Social and Emotional Learning have already shown that the emotional responses to VR simulations helped children to learn empathy. This improved their attitude and view of the world in society. But whilst cutting-edge technologies can stimulate emotions and enhance learning, emotions can influence the learning strategy. And that’s not always a good thing.

Motivation and Focused Attention

Emotions have a direct effect on how an individual is motivated. On the one hand, emotions can externally motivate people to succeed and engage with compelling learning tools more often.

However, emotions also influence the internal motivations of students. Studies showed that emotions contribute to self-regulation. Emotions like fun, joy, hope and pride promote flexible learning strategies and can have a positive impact on the resulting performance. On the flip side, negative emotions such as boredom, confusion and stress diminish motivation and hamper information processing.

Researchers concluded that the amount of focus students and trainees lend to the learning process is influenced by how much interest they have in the topic. This becomes irrelevant when you use technologies that stimulate emotions in a positive way. Animation, VR and gamification are mechanisms that serve as a tool to promote emotional experiences. Gamification, for example, presents users with a purpose and enables them to form a clear intent. In turn, the focus and motivation of the user are heightened and raise their capacity for reasoning and problem-solving.

Five Cubes Showing Five Different Emotions in a Scale

Retention and Memory Recall

In professional environments, VR looks to have the most potential for training employees to high standards of performance. When users are so immersed in a virtual environment they literally ‘feel’ what they are experiencing as real. For example, seeing smoke in a fire safety training simulator creates an emotional response and urges them to take action. A real-life scenario is, therefore, experienced in a controlled environment which informs trainers how prepared an individual is to experience a real-life situation.

This is evidently useful for workers that will inevitably find themselves in stressful situations such as emergency rescue teams, surgeons, construction workers, military personnel etc. Ultimately, virtual worlds expose employees to challenges they can expect to experience in the real world. The potential to create any scenario is limitless and can even be used by recruiters to determine a candidates capacity to make critical decisions under duress.

Because VR tricks the brain into believing the simulated experience is really happening, the psycho-biological system is stimulated. Feeling an experience is the strongest memory we store from our activities.

In three-dimensional space, we are pushed to choose and act. The interactions we have with our environment, and the perceptions we create, form memories. Memories are essentially stores of information that have been collected by the fives senses. They help us to recall details and even fuel habitual behaviours. Memory is critical for learning in all aspects of life.

Every new experience we have fires a neurone which triggers an emotion. The more often we have the same experience, the stronger the “synaptic plasticity” becomes. Strong synapses improve performance.

Man Using Mixed Reality in a Lab

VR Designs For Learning

Virtual reality gives participants the feeling of stepping into a lived reality which naturally leverages their senses and thus their emotional responses. In this sense, VR can rewire a person’s brain and enhance neural connections that are needed for learning and memory.

From a design perspective, it’s important the virtual learning environment promotes cognitive and emotional processes. In order to leverage VR for learning, it’s important for trainers and designers to understand how emotions influence the learning process and not simply design a program for novelty value.

Do you need to develop game based e-learning either via Articulate Storyline, Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality? Why not drop us an email at, or give us a call on +44 (0)207 148 0526. We would be happy to help. For further reading see our other haptic feedback project Car Engine Assembly using VR by clicking here.

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