Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jargon and Emotional Response in Learning

The situation

I was at a meeting last weekend with tremendously bright people who were all in different fields. We all had in common, it seemed, both a desire to improve communication through technology and a proclivity for considering various social network tools as the means to do this.

The Issue

As discussed previously, all good teachers succeeed by provoking with a combination of emotional and intellectual bait. However, as Sir Ken Robinson remarked at TED, you'd probably not see a teacher in a gathering that includes the kind of professionals gathered last weekend.

Then I met Nicole Lazzaro. She focuses on games and the specific ways that they engage (or don't) through emotional response. I was intrigued by her repeated reference to the importance of feeling states to learning, not least because she is the first person to do so in a business-oriented meeting.

Surprised at My Own Reaction

Despite the fact that a consideration of emotion is perhaps the most neglected aspect of learning outside a classroom (and even inside some classrooms of older children), I found that I flinched each time Nicole connected to business the words "emotions," "amusement," or other generic terms for what we feel. On the other hand, everything she said was fascinating.

So I asked her to meet me outside. We did a podcast on the subject of games and emotions with Howard Greenstein.

Language and Feeling

During the podcast, Howard and I asked Nicole to define the myriad emotions, the desired proportions, and the optimal timing of each to create successful games. Nicole continued to use words like "amusing" (here, "funny"), and I questioned the specific meaning of each because they are all everyday words that have a variety of connotations. For example, all games have been referred to as "amusing" if one considers games to be "amusements."

Nicole has done a lot of hard core research on the brain and emotional reactions. She is an impressive thinker, and the success of her work attests to her long experience and real knowledge of both human behavior and the most current science that explains it.

However, the language she uses still doesn't have the same credibility to me. THAT, I realized, was the reason I flinched in the meeting when she spoke. There is already enough dismissing of feeling-based reactions in learning. Here was a scholar and fascinating thinker who could change all that through the game business. Yet the language still wasn't as strong in a business context as the business itself.

More in the next post.

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