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Learning for Chocolate

Even when I am on a diet, I can usually justify a small piece of dark chocolate as an afternoon pick-me-up. After all, it’s rich in antioxidants, and better yet, eating dark chocolate has been found to increase the levels of endorphins released into the brain—excellent news to knowledge trainers like myself.

Now, I am no brain scientist, but I have read enough about brain-based learning to know this: Stress, bad for learning. Endorphins, good. So, it is understandable why many classroom trainers and presenters entice participation with chocolate. Chocolate stimulates the brain.

But there is more to it than meets the eye (or the tongue). We human types like rewards. Rewards and recognition make us feel good. They inspire us to perform and participate.

If you will pardon the pun, learners are often “hungry” for acknowledgment, because they are already pushing their comfort zone in several ways—by trying something new, in an environment where they’re not necessarily socially comfortable.

In a live classroom-learning environment, trainers looking to reduce stress and energize learning find many occasions and methods to acknowledge and encourage active engagement with their learning material, including:

  1. Smiling or nodding when a participant answers correctly.
  2. Awarding a small prize for the table that came up with the most ideas.
  3. Validating a student’s contribution by recording it on an overhead or flipchart.
  4. Distributing course completion certificates.
  5. Giving out a piece of chocolate when someone asks a good question.

And some rewards do not come from the facilitator, but from the participants’ innate desire to grow and succeed. Learning experiences are rewarding when individuals feel the thrill of conquering a difficult topic or win a really challenging team game.

Rewarding online learners takes a different form, but is no less important. To recognize and inspire participation and performance can be both easier and more difficult in the online world. Simple participation can be easily incorporated by requiring learners to type a response to a question before they can advance to the next screen. However, what about winning the smile of a facilitator?

Think about the many apps for children’s games that focus on collecting gold stars—each one of those is a smile of sorts. Learners have been awarded with gold stars for decades, so why stop now? The next time you build an online learning module, consider where opportunities for building in accolades, smiles, and stars can be incorporated into the learning module. Such as:

  1. The first time users click or type an answer other than “next.”
  2. After a correct answer is given.
  3. When a total score reaches a minimal threshold (not just 100 percent correct!)
  4. When they click through on a particular path.
  5. After reading a lengthy narrative.
  6. When they progress to a new level.
  7. After a game or exercise.

You will need to find the right balance of when and how often to offer feedback. If the feedback is too frequent, it becomes disingenuous and annoying; too infrequent, and learners derive no benefit.

And what of the chocolate? In our e-world, we sometimes forget that snail mail is still there for us. Send a small envelope with a few chocolates to pre-registered attendees. Mark the outside of the package with clear instructions that it not be opened until instructed to do so during the online session. That is sure to generate some smiles and produce endorphins.

Finally, congratulate your e-learners at the end of a program by sending along a course completion certificate on real certificate paper. It both validates the accomplishment and continues to promote your course.

~ by Susan Landay

Read more on chocolate and the brain: 
Chocolate Helps Learning

*NOTE:  This article first appeared in eLearn Magazine

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