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emotionYou must turn off your emotions for the next hour. This training is a feeling-free zone. You do not have a report due at the end of the day. You do not have to get groceries on the way home. You are to studiously apply yourself and completely forget the outside world. Your training has spoken. Couldn’t we put emotion back into training?  Are your learners robots?

Why is there so much training for robots out there? When did having a genuine reaction to something become a bad thing? After all, our brains have an easier time recalling memories that are linked to emotional events, regardless of whether they’re happy or upsetting. Emotional content also makes things more interesting.

Stop and think for a minute. What did you talk about last time you had a conversation? I bet you swapped stories, discussed shared interests, or vented about something that’s bothering you. All of these are tied to human emotions. What commercials do you remember best? They’re probably ones that made you laugh or feel bad (think of those Humane Society spots that want you to adopt a rescued animal). Emotion.

The traditional textbook approach of laying out the facts and moving on is pretty common, especially in eLearning. And, if it’s handled correctly, quick and to the point can be very useful. One of the main problems is that training is often long, dense, and dry. “Dry” is the main part that emotion can help with. Some of the most effective ways to inject emotion are to use stories and other examples.

Mandatory compliance training confuses me more than any other victim of training sanitization. It’s frequently villainized as the most tedious and boring type of training around for learners. Why? If something is mandatory it’s mandatory for a good reason. It’s like the warning label on the ball dispenser at a bowling alley. It tells you not to put your hand in the machine because at some point someone did and the result wasn’t pretty. There are real, emotional consequences for non-compliance that rarely get enough attention.

Let’s do a quick comparison, using food safety as the topic.

Option 1 “It’s important for fast food employees to change their gloves under the specified circumstances. Not doing so can lead to food contamination and termination.”

Quick, easy, and to the point. How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel? Would you remember it a week later?

Option 2 “Corey looked down at his final paystub from Taco Hut.* It wasn’t much, but it was all he’d had to live off for the last year. He hadn’t realized that answering ‘No’ when the manager asked if he’d changed his gloves would lead to this. It had supposedly been part of the food safety course earlier in the year, but it was hard to remember all that stuff. And now the restaurant was under fire for recent cases of food poisoning. Someone had died because of it. There wasn’t any proof that it was from something he’d made, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that it was his fault. If he’d just changed his gloves when he was supposed to maybe that person would be alive and he’d still have a job…”


Dramatic? Yes. Unrealistic? Not really.

Why do so many places insist on turning the real, human elements of Option 2 into the bland, easily forgettable line item that is Option 1? I don’t have an answer. But if people don’t care, they’re not going to bother remembering.

Advertisers and marketers have a strong grasp on the importance of striking an emotional chord. There’s no reason why Learning & Development professionals can’t learn the same lesson. I’ve had multiple people recommend the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, to me. From what I’ve been told it’s a great resource for diving deeper into this concept.

In summary, consider making your training emotion-friendly. You just might find that it’ll be more effective and less of a chore for learners.