I was working with one of our clients very recently to identify the requirements for a new training project. As you would expect, there was much discussion around how to achieve the various learning objectives which would deliver the desired performance improvement. At one point, someone said, “I simply want everyone to be able to make better decisions”.  Perhaps not so simple – a lengthy and quite complex debate followed about the underlying causes of poor decision making, what interventions would engender better decision making and how to measure the impact that would have.

By chance on the journey home, a sports news item caught my ear. Exeter City manager, Paul Tisdale, was quoted as saying that his team needed to learn to make better decisions. In referring to their most recent match, Tisdale believed that a 10 per cent improvement in their decision making would have resulted in a better outcome – three points to be exact. He added that they could not be faulted for effort or sharpness; it was a need to make more considered decisions.

These conversations centered around the need for better decision making in two such different areas that it reminded me of a presentation I gave last year on looking at the role of emotion in decision making. I was very interested in the research being undertaken into the way in which the brain operates during the decision making process. 

Connecting the dots

Traditionally, it has been thought that good decision making comes from using only the analytical/cognitive system of the brain, but research demonstrates that decision making requires a combination of knowledge, reasoning and emotion.  In an interesting video interview, Robyn Wilson from the Behavioral Decision Making Initiative at The Ohio State University talks about this belief but explains that in fact all decisions stem from the experiential/emotional part of the brain, and that ignoring this means we miss a big piece of the jigsaw. She stresses the importance of using both the emotional and cognitive systems in order to make better decisions.

This struck me as of being of particular significance to those of us in the learning industry. I might perhaps have previously dismissed the need to develop training solutions which are designed to engage people’s emotions, and concentrated on imparting the required theory, knowledge and skills. In a face-to-face training situation, people can become emotionally engaged through the classroom discussions and interactions. However, in a large proportion of e-learning solutions, there is no mechanism for emotional engagement, and this may go towards explaining the often high levels of dissatisfaction from users.

I have seen recently in areas as diverse as social work to engineering that there are significant benefits from designing learning solutions which address this need to create an emotional as well as a practical context for learners to apply their knowledge and skills. Simulating the real life pressures engages learners’ emotions during the problem solving and decision making process, leading to a deeper and more effective learning experience, which will then result in the desired performance improvement.