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Emotionally Intelligent course design – what is it and why should you use it?

At a time when digital learning is gradually replacing face-to-face learning in the professional and self-development spaces, it is increasingly important for experts to establish and maintain an emotional connection with their learners.

While intellectual credibility builds trust and helps learners integrate their knowledge, emotional credibility builds empathy and connection See my blog Why your course should be designed with Intelligence in mind. In this post I’ll address what Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is, and why it’s so important for your online course.

What is EQ, and why does it matter?

Emotional intelligence, also referred to as the Emotional Quotient, or EQ, was popularised by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. In the book, Goleman defines EQ as an awareness of our own emotions, and the emotions of others, and using that awareness to manage behaviour and improve relationships. The four pillars of emotional intelligence are: 

  1. Self-awareness: Awareness of our emotional impulses, triggers, patterns and behaviours.
  2. Self-regulation: Ability to manage and regulate our emotions appropriately.
  3. Social awareness: Empathy for the emotional responses of others.
  4. Relationship management: Using our self and social awareness to effectively manage our communication with others.

What does EQ have to do with learning?

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Multiple studies suggest that emotions are an essential component of the learning environment in general, and the online learning environment in particular (Cleveland-Innes & Campbell, 2006).

Emotion is a major factor that may determine whether someone decides to enrol in an online course or not, and once enrolled, whether they complete it. Online courses that fall short on Emotional Quotient tend to see low engagement, low retention, low completion and low return. 

“Positive emotions facilitate learning and contribute to academic achievement, being mediated by the levels of self-motivation and satisfaction with learning materials” (Um et al. 2012)

When creating an online course, harnessing your own EQ through understanding your own drivers for what to include and why, and how you deliver your content will help to connect with your learners more authentically. Likewise, knowledge of, or empathy for the learner’s experience, and using this effectively will help you speak to the heart of the learner and design a course that facilitates emotional learning

How to create an emotionally intelligent course

Emotional connection and social connection are key to creating an emotionally intelligent online course.

Emotional Connection

Connection is key. Course creators who build an authentic human connection with their audience, with consistent support, encouragement and guidance, are the ones who see results. 

While there are many ways to create an emotional connection with an online audience, storytelling is one of the most ancient and enduring. In the digital space, storytelling is a powerful way to connect learners with content, encourage reflection and inspire action. It provides context and relevance to the material, making it more accessible and relatable, and enhances the value of the content. Narratives that reflect the learner’s reality are the most potent and impactful. When learners can relate to the content, the learning experience becomes memorable and enduring. When a story resonates with an audience, an expert can inspire action and transformation.  

Social Connection

Social connection is similarly integral to a positive online learning experience. The degree to which learners feel socially and emotionally connected with one another determines levels of engagement, retention and success.

Community groups or forums that connect learners to one another through shared experiences provide a vital human and interactive dimension to online learning. These facilitate a sense of emotional connection in the digital space and encourage discussion, reflection, exchange, collaboration, support and accountability. Course instructors should foster a community culture of safety, respect and support. Regular discussion prompts that encourage learners to build relationships will enhance engagement, promote community and engender a strong emotional commitment to the online learning experience.

Emotions create impact, driving attention, motivation and influence. When designing an online course, it’s important to consider how best to harness the power of EQ – not only in order to enhance the learning experience, but also to attract and retain an audience.  

For a deeper dive into how to translate your knowledge into online learning experiences of impact, Download the 5Qs of Knowledge Alchemy eBook.

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