Close your eyes. Breathe deep. And remember.
Not that long ago I taught a course on semiotics to help advertising students understand how to draw connections between material forms (things that can be heard, seen, touched, or tasted) and the signified (the mental concept - what that thing means). One day I taught a class entirely on nostalgia.
The instructions I gave to them, which drew the few laughs I needed to help establish trust, were to “close your eyes and take a whiff.” I assured them they wouldn’t smell anything foul. I went about the room and held beneath their noses the object in question. They closed their eyes and bit their lips with nervous (but playful) apprehension, but then smiled as they drew pleasant memories from childhood. One young man shed a couple of tears as he smiled.
I told them to keep their eyes closed for the rest of the exercise. I asked for volunteers to share an emotion and a memory related to that scent, but to not name the item.
Every hand went up. And on and on they shared their stories.
They opened their eyes and found in front of them a small yellow canister with a colored lid, some blue, some green or red.
And for the rest of the class period we unpacked nostalgia, and its uses in product development, marketing, social impact, and media.
They played with Play-Doh the entire class period.
Then they asked if I’d bring it back to class the following week. So I did.
At the end of the semester, everyone who submitted a course review mentioned the Play-Doh exercise as the most meaningful class of that section, and their most favorite.
I bring this up because designing touchpoints, those physical and emotional triggers, into the learning experience is the most overlooked design element of learning experience.
Can you create learning in a visceral way such that we activate more sensations and interpretations that associate with memory?
Think of how to incorporate the senses: how might you associate the lesson with touch, smell, taste? In many professional education settings, we rely too heavily on just sight and sound (although music and culinary students are off the hook for this one).
Engage the senses and you’ll make learning easier and more meaningful.
Bring this thing alive.
Connect the learning to emotions, and make it a shared emotional experience you want that cohort of learners to experience together.