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How Can Technology Foster Emotional Learning?

By Henry Kronk
November 12, 2019

In recent years, many education stakeholders have begun to recognize the value in digital tools, technologies, and environments. But assessments and evaluations of digital learning tools typically focus on umbrella, overarching results. Many studies will often determine their efficacy with a pre- and post-study learner test. In doing so, the conclusions they draw may disregard some of the nuance of the learning process, such as the affective, social, and emotional factors.

At least, that is the premise held by a group of researchers from the University of Oulu. The team conducted four case studies to explore how digital technology might also support affective and emotional learning.

Instead of conducting a bigger, more scientifically rigorous efficacy study, the researchers decided to identify certain ways that online learning might be able to enhance emotional learning and to test these methods out with small case studies. They conducted four of these. One examined how learners might best conduct group work via social media. Another looked at the collaborative, problem-solving dimensions of playing Minecraft. The third and fourth investigated the use of makerspaces and maker culture. The researchers published their results in Frontiers in Education on November 1.

The Power of Social Media in Emotional Learning

As the authors write, “One of the main challenges that teachers face in the context of adopting contemporary technologies to support learning activities is the fact that professional knowledge and competencies are needed in both technology and pedagogy.”

Technology offers many advantages. But when it comes to the affective, emotional side of learning, it also needs to be fully reckoned with. For example, researchers have found that one’s presence online can divulge certain personal information and open up pathways for bullying in ways that don’t happen in person. Online interactions also involve a larger cognitive load and lack many social cues that are present face-to-face.

With this in mind, the team decided to investigate how affective learning might be best translated online into a social media context.

Plenty of researchers have investigated using social media in academic contexts—and some have found non-desirable consequences with the manner in which group work or discussions operate.

The University of Oulu researchers, therefore, tried to avoid these with the practice of ‘scripting.’ Scripting involves assigning learners a general role and/or script in their group. Scripting can be used to achieve many different effects, but here it was implemented to encourage collaboration and group work online.

The researchers applied scripting via group work on Facebook with an 88-person online course. They found positive results. As they write, “In general, students participated equally in the joint discussions according to the roles given to them, but the actual use of the sentence openers was more random. The main results indicated that, with this design, students engaged actively in argumentative knowledge co-construction, and that there were no significant differences in terms of the amount of activity between the differently scripted studying phases.”

Game-Based Learning

Game-based learning and gamification have received a huge amount of attention in recent years. Companies delivering game-based learning solutions to classrooms have lately raised millions of dollars in VC funding rounds.

But the general narrative behind using games in the learning process is that they increase engagement. And engaged learners learn better. But again, how these solutions might be used in a group or social context is less understood.

So the researchers investigated how they might encourage collaborative learning and problem solving in a 16-person after school Minecraft club.

Over the course of the case study, students were asked to complete several different challenges. Some involved educational content, like learning how electricity and electrical grids work, and others were just for fun.

The researchers found that, “Minecraft is an example of a constructivist gaming experience in which players can play, modify the game, or even create their own games for learning.”

One participant is quoted saying, “I usually do not really like these guys, but I am kind of sad that this experiment is over. I’m going to miss our village and society a lot. I am pretty sure I won’t speak to half of the players anymore.”

The social, collaborative power of game-based learning, therefore, requires further exploration.

With their paper, the researchers from the Universitu of Oulu underscore how, for technology to play an effective role in affective learning, teachers must be able to use and understand it both from a technological and a pedagogical point of view.

They conclude, writing, “Teachers at all educational levels have an especially crucial role in developing these skills in their students, and therefore future teachers have to be offered opportunities to experience and learn within various collaborative environments.”

Read the full study here.

Featured Image: Mimi Thian, Unsplash.

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