Audience Applaud Clapping Happiness Appreciation Training Concept

The Emotional Hierarchy of Learning

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Trainers, coaches, teachers, mentors—all those who facilitate development and growth—need to apply emotional intelligence as a core component of the learning process. It is not just an end product; it energizes the entire process to create higher order results, engagement, and long-term impact.

Educators and speakers have long recognized that an energized, entertained audience is far more receptive than a passive, bored one. Edutainment, active learning, gamification, and blended learning have focused on making the experience fun. Integration of feelings throughout the learning process creates positive relationships and enhanced experiences, which facilitate improvement, engagement, motivation, application, and retention. Building on the models from ATD, Kirkpatrick, ICF, and others, there is a basic structure that engages feelings and relationships at various levels.

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” —Zig Ziglar

The first level of learning is about self-awareness. It invites the participant to engage in self-definition. Choice, at a conscious and subconscious level, generates involvement. It is an active decision to engage and display interest. As Lao Tzu stated, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready . . . the teacher will disappear.” Learning is a journey that begins with awareness, self-awakening, and definition.

As the experience progresses, identification allows for self-understanding and esteem. There is an innate recognition of enhanced interests and abilities. This creates levels of confidence, assurance, and self-efficacy. There is an energy transmitted that creates an excitement to apply training.

Learning generates energy, optimism, and enjoyment. There are positive expectations for effective transfer and improvement. At this level, learning is focused on self-management, new potential, and behavior development.

Development of instruction, training delivery, technologies, and delivery needs to look toward core skills and technical competencies, but also needs to result in learning experiences that are emotionally successful. This goes far beyond satisfaction. Trust, shared objectives, positive mindsets and mental states, commitment, energy, motivation, improvement, and engagement are all emotional factors essential to effective learning and application. These need to be accounted for at the needs analysis and early development phases.


Too frequently, trainers and coaches discount “smiley faces” and emotional impact. They spend time driving content and cognitive structures. While these are well and good (and easily measurable), they fail to associate the full value of feelings.

Speakers frequently focus on motivation, excitement, and audience enjoyment. They create a fun environment but may discount content in the process. True integration requires both cognitive and emotional training.

At the self-management phase, excitement, intrigue, creativity, and personal connections are made. Training produces the link through which performance can be enhanced and delivered at higher levels. This engenders client satisfaction as well as employee and team fun.

As training progresses, it stimulates empathy, desire for collaboration and participation, and the inspiration of possibilities. Collaboration and synergy promote higher level initiatives for service and value added. These allow for learners to become change agents themselves.


Training seeks to improve potential and performance, but effective initiatives involve more. It strives to develop teamwork, add value for those they serve, and create a continuing commitment to the organization’s overall vision. While these are generally not explicit objectives, they are those underlying assumptions that are part of success.

Good programs reduce conflict, enhance cooperation, empower leadership, and have long-term impact. These goals need to be clearly defined and specified; they can and should be measured.

Indeed, the heart of learning is predicated on the emotional intelligence framework. It should be applied as a hierarchy to achieve high-value training objectives. It sets the tone for participative, effective experiences and learning relationships:

  • Self-Awareness: “I am” sets the parameters for definition, clarity, and understanding. The key components are: confidence and self-assurance (support positive expectations and an energy to act); realistic excitement and positive attitude, generating a strong, constructive mindset that believes; and enthusiasm and passion, creating a heart and vision.
  • Self-Management: “I can” generates capabilities. It allows for individual initiative and performance. Self-management begins as an active choice. Team players are committed to the vision, buy-in, and are loyal; they are more than mere hired hands. Training is an investment in them, their team, service, adding value for all. Focus and discipline allow for a partnership in learning and improvement. Assertive, invested players are active partners to achievement. Agility, adaptability, flexibility are qualities empowered through strong-mindedness, grit, and resilience. These provide the backbone of service and all levels of success.
  • Empathy and Social Awareness: “I care” allows learners to access their kindness and compassion. It's about developing resonance and rapport with teammates and those served. Teaching service and consideration amplifies focus and leverages interpersonal connection through soft skills. Those who are optimistic and helpful exercise positive expectations and exceed the value proposition offered (under-promise and over-deliver). Supporting sensitivity and appreciation allows for high-quality soft skills that create exceptional experiences as well as memorable relationships. When kindness and involvement are modeled through training, it sets the example to offer the same and continue with a high-value connection.
  • Relationship Management: “I will” creates a future, performance orientation. It allows personal responsibility and self-reliance. This translates energy and excitement into engagement and performance. Motivation shifts thoughts and feelings into behaviors. It converts potential into results. Improvement and self-actualizing are keys for the journey. Training and coaching expand the horizons of potential. Application makes things practical. It sets measurable, meaningful effort and productivity. This creates return on expectations and investment. Retention, enhancement, and creativity invite learners to become leaders, influencers, and developers.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

For deeper a dive into these ideas, join me February 11 for the webcast, Emotional Intelligence Is Part of Basic Learning.

About the Author

Robert Jerus is the author of Mind Matters: Applying Emotional Intelligence for Personal and Professional Success and the founder of Success Dynamics International, the provider of the EIQ-2™ emotional intelligence learning and performance development systems and emotional intelligence certification. He is a frequent speaker at public and private engagements. Bob has taught business, psychology, and adult development at various universities. He has worked as a counselor in marriage and family therapy. As a consultant, coach and trainer, he has worked with Fortune 500 Organizations and aspiring entrepreneurs.

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