Learning

You Should Design Learning to Privilege Experience Over Analysis

In many ways this is a pre-cursor to some future posts about empathy. Imagine it is like a supply mission ahead of the main mission.[1]

I have long been interested in shining a light on the emotional journey of learning. At the centre stands the need for greater understanding and development of empathy. This challenge is meant on many levels, including the design of learning and the overall ambition and vision a school has.

I came across this recent piece[2] about the development of policy related to climate change. The paper is an effort to put research about human psychology into action when it comes to new policy creation. The first issue it raises squarely references the need for us to pay better attention to the way we engage others:

The Human Brain Privileges Experience Over Analysis…In short, how we feel about a given situation often has a potent influence on our decisions about how to respond (Slovic & Peters, 2006)[3].

Of course the context here is slightly different, however the same psychological findings are true when we consider the design of learning. Experiential learning is one well worn path to more engaged learners. However learner design for greater empathy is typically not.

What does this actually mean for the way I design learning?

We should continue to design learning so that it can be, “translated into relatable and concrete personal experiences.” This is that well worn path I mentioned. Increasing the empathy quotient in your class is a different ask, often changing as a result of what we just discussed. Design and co-construct periods of learning that your students connect deeply with. The research tells us that we humans will filter for those personal connections and remain much more engaged once we do. We need to turn up the dial of activities that develop the skill of empathy through relatable and concrete personal experiences.

You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.[4]


  1. I have been reading The Martian.  ↩
  2. van der Linden, Sander, Edward Maibach, and Anthony Leiserowitz. “Improving Public Engagement With Climate Change Five “Best Practice” Insights From Psychological Science.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 10.6 (2015): 758–763.  ↩
  3. The full reference from the paper: Slovic P., Peters E. (2006). Risk perception and affect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 322–325  ↩
  4. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960  ↩

Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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3 Comments on "You Should Design Learning to Privilege Experience Over Analysis"

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mrkrndvs
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4 months 17 days ago

“We nd 2 turn up the dial of activities that develop skill of empathy thru relatable & concrete personal experiencs” https://t.co/djIUxztN4G

tombarrett
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4 months 17 days ago

New post >> You Should Design Learning to Privilege Experience Over Analysis https://t.co/1ZdmCvusap

edwaves
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4 months 17 days ago

You Should Design Learning to Privilege Experience Over Analysis https://t.co/6F4jMq9vD7

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