Valuing students' emotions in online learning environments: MicroCPD

Dr Roshan Boojihawon talks about how students' emotions can have a powerful influence on their ability to learn and succeed online. (Video transcript)

Valuing students' emotions in online learning environments 

In this MicroCPD, Dr Roshan Boojihawon discusses the value of paying attention to students' emotions and how they can have a powerful influence on their ability to learn and succeed online. 

As individuals, our emotions play a vital role in how we read, filter and assimilate information every day. Often, they go unnoticed, or we are merely passive to them. As learners, our emotions move and define how we learn and engage. They are powerful and interconnected with our cognitive processes of attention, motivation, and memory. Therefore, how we appeal to our students' emotions has a significant influence on how they feel connected, engaged and supported, and persevere during their online learning. I have found these practical considerations help the emotional appeal of my teaching practice: 

During Design:
  1. Step into the shoes of the student when designing the learning journey. Online learning can be a lonely and frustrating experience, mainly sometimes made worst by the fact that we expect our students to instantly, if not, overnight become independent learners. We need to challenge this notion right from inception and see our teaching as our students see them. 
  2. Enhance the visual appeal of your materials. Clear and logical organization visibly influences the online learning experience's quality, positively impacts students' performance, and dissipates confusion and sets the scene for emotional connect to happen. 
  3. Develop your content for an emotional appeal. A sense of isolation can persist throughout the learning journey, and with that often comes the struggle to remain engaged. This is hard to do, but research shows that intentionally adding information to tasks that engage students' effect or emotions leads to a more profound understanding of the content. I find it easier to share images and media that evokes an emotional response in online classes than in face-to-face courses.
  4. Emphasize the value of peers as often as possible. They need to know or be reminded that they are not alone in their journey. Activities designed to make them feel that they are connected to their peers can help enormously. Provoke disagreements or conflicts within discussion posts, and you will be surprised how intense it can get.
  5. Take the spotlight away from 'assessments': they are an important but not the only measure of learning, and often, too much attention to them can take away the 'fun' in knowledge. Having fun or its joy is an honest emotion, particularly when learning new and challenging stuff, leading to deeper engagement.
 During Delivery 
  1. Think about how you nurture your teacher-student relationship – As a student, it is easy to feel isolated and confused in online learning environments, particularly at the start. I use this time on my online module as a golden moment to proactively demonstrate presence, connect and help the students connect with the module and facilitate connection with their peers. Body language dies online; students should know that you care.
  2. Caring is less about the attitude; it is ongoing and more about your actions as their teacher. There are various ways of doing this, but it starts by acknowledging that every student is different and learns differently.
  3. Do not hide your passion for your subject. This may sound cliché but let your students know that you care about your subject. That there are issues that conflict with you and the ways you see the world.
  4. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on. Your students should also feel comfortable doing the same; we are learning.
  5. When used right, humour can be a binding element in helping emotional connections with content or interactions. It can also help lighten or freshen intense (and often qualified as 'boring') subjects or theories. We have all been there!
  6. Emphasize groupwork is upbeat and fun. Figure out what students should be practising and create exercises that help them reflect on their perspectives and learn from one another. Let them own the process. Acknowledge that conflicting views are acceptable. Interact with students as they work, make the journey with them. 

Valuing students’ emotions can enhance their performance in more profound and more enduring ways than we can imagine.


Goldingay, Sophie, and Clare Land. n.d. 2014. 'Emotion: The "e" in Engagement in Online Distance Education in Social Work', Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance learning, 18(1), 58-72. 

Redmond, Petrea, Lindy-Anne Abawi, Alice Brown, Robyn Henderson, and Amanda Heffernan. 2018. 'An Online Engagement Framework for Higher Education' 22 (1): 22.