Learning Quotient and the link to Empathy
LQ is about managing the learning environment to meet your learning needs and part of that environment involves interaction with others.
The interaction can be in a setting directly involving and interacting dynamically with people as in a classroom situation or part of a group. Moving away from this traditional learning environment we may have audio resources only (radio/phone conversation/web call) where you need to understand tone and inflection in the voice. You can attempt to learn in an environment which is purely in the written word (texts, novels, web or phone chat) where you need to pick up on the use of language and its structure in order to fully understand the key messages within the text. Sometimes the learning comes not from what is but through who said it or how it is said. You may be entertained by a comedian and the humour may lie not in what he says but the way he says it or his actions (body language) during the performance.
The link between Empathy and our Senses
It is true to say that the learning environment is a multisensory one. We learn through all of our five physical senses because this is how we interact with our physical environment. Then there is the sense we may call intuition, a feeling generated by an inner perception concerning our environment. An example would be feeling threatened or anxious about a situation where there is no clear signal of danger.
We see things which we interpret be it objects, actions or behaviours (including body language) and can make judgements about such things as honesty, size of things or aesthetics.
Feeling something on our skin or by touch can tell us if it is cooked, broken, or moving, and even if it is warm or cold. By listening when somebody talks, shouts or even sings not only can we can judge emotions such as fear, love, or anger we can feel them too.
Through taste we can identify substances, identify hazard or receive enjoyment. We may like something just for its taste or get a craving for a particular food because of its taste. We may avoid certain experiences because of taste such as visiting a particular restaurant or eating a certain type of food. Taste may be one of the first attempts we make to control our environment too. For example a small child who has little control over his/her life refusing to eat a particular vegetable perhaps!
Our noses can pick up a range of smells, some like taste and hearing music can stimulate memories. Odors can warn us of danger or tell us if something is overcooked or not.
When we listen we can identify sounds and identify with sounds bringing back memories (with taste also). Sound can inform us of danger, calm us, alert us to what is going on around us, or even form a barrier to it. Hearing gives us a 360 degree “view” of our world, we can hear things at a distance and all around us. We turn to face those who speak to us and from behind or from the side.
The intuition aspect I believe may come from disharmony, conflicting or misinterpreted sensory inputs to our brain. It may also come from past experiences, a type of prediction where similar events or sensory inputs have occurred before and our brains are trying to recall earlier experiences in an effort to make sense of what is happening. For the learner this is particularly important in links with our personal learning maps[i]. Two or more of our sensors may be interpreted as having different meaning causing sensory disharmony which we are aware of at a subconscious level.
The key here is “interpretation” and “prediction” and we learn these through experience or, in some cases, the lack of it. Where we have no direct experience we may “borrow” this from those around us and imitate their behaviours. Examples include laughing when others laugh even though we do not understand the joke or get caught up with group panic. We are following the lead of others, sometimes without thinking. Once again this is an important aspect of managing your learning environment, of LQ.
We may replace fact with belief if we are told something or see something for which we have no experience. We may take a lead from others around us. Being aware of this in terms of our learning map is critical to how we interact with and manage our learning environment.
The link between Empathy and those around us
Being aware of those around us, their behaviours, and emotions is part of our general survival toolkit. Not recognising when those around us sense danger could result in us being left behind so we are wired to respond in some way to others around us. In most learning situations it is unlikely you would fear for your life although you may still experience some of the same emotions such as anxiety or nervousness, which is perfectly normal (remember learning to drive?). How we respond can go beyond the instinct level and involve an element of rational thinking when we begin to use LQ. We begin to take notice of more than one sensory input and we balance our instinct in order to calculate a response. In doing so I believe we see with a new clarity. We can view the actions of those around us in a way that allows us to recognise in them those things that can influence us. We can decide how we respond and learn to understand how our responses can affect us.
Our responses to others can include:
- Experiencing in ourselves the same emotions as those around us
- Feeling sympathy or sorrow for others
- Mimicking or adopting the behaviours of those around us
- Withdrawing, being quiet, and not engaging
- Acting out of character
- Taking action to protect others who we sense may be upset
- Falling out with people, including friends
What this means for the Teacher
I will present this section as a series of questions upon which I would like you to ponder.
When creating the learning environment, and by this I do not mean planning lessons, do you empathise with your students? Can you remember what it is like to approach learning when you are not sure what is happening or lack confidence?
Do you register your student’s emotions and recognise how their senses are going to be impacted by the environment you create?
Do you acknowledge where they have just come from and recognise how this may affect their ability to focus in your lesson and make adjustments to your approach accordingly?
Do you prepare your students to leave your lesson in a calm and relaxed manner or is it a mad rush when the bell goes?
Are you welcoming both in what you say and your body language?
What this means for the Learner
You must be careful when entering a learning environment and not to let yourself get drawn into issues or the problems of others. You should try to stay calm even when late, anxious, or reluctant to go to a particular lesson. You must recognise the limiting thinking and learning that can result from mimicking the attitudes or behaviours of others. Being able to recognise your own emotions and feelings and upon what they are based is central to managing your learning environment to meet your needs. Learning ways to overcome being anxious is important and recognising that it is a natural part of learning is the first step. No one wants to make mistakes, to be laughed at by others or thought of as stupid and all these things can happen when we try to learn. It is how most people feel at times so recognise it but don’t let it limit your efforts and don’t create the same feelings for others. Recognise in yourself how you feel about the challenge of learning and see it in others.
I am aware that this could turn into a rather long post and so I have kept it brief. I will need to return to managing emotions as part of LQ again.
Next week I will look at the link between LQ and curiosity.
[i] Our learning map is a way of expressing what we have learnt, how we have learnt it, the barriers we set ourselves as well as the expectations we hold about what we can or cannot learn.