Feelings & Emotional Intelligence Impact on Healthcare Training

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This blog post was written by Kristin Hackett, Product Manager, Adaptive Solutions at HealthStream.

There is often a link between the way we feel about our environment, the way the day has gone, the people around us, and what it is we are having to learn directly to how well we learn and retain information. In healthcare, it is especially important that employees can call upon their experiences and learned information at the drop of a hat, so retention and recall of essential training are important. However, we all know that days on the floor can be fraught with upset patients, annoying coworkers, and another training module that we do not have time for. So, what impact does that have on learning online, in a classroom, and from our experiences?

How Feelings Impact Learning and Knowledge Retention

Our brains are complex machines that are always working for or against us. A simple thought can ruin our entire day, just like a positive experience can make our day brighter. But why does that matter when it comes to learning? Well, learning doesn’t just happen—we must be in a place where we are open to receiving knowledge. Have you ever sat down to take an online course or read a book and you get five minutes into it and realize you just do not have the focus at that moment? You are emotionally and/or physically spent and not open to learning.

Learning is about being present in the moment of learning, and there is a significant impact on your openness to learn based on your emotional intelligence because they are formed in the limbic system. The limbic system deciphers emotions and thoughts to turn them into action. Thus, “Positive emotions such as joy, contentment, acceptance, trust and satisfaction can enhance learning. Conversely, prolonged emotional distress can cripple our ability to learn” (Lawson, 2002). In other words, there is a level of focus or clarity of mind required to learn and retain knowledge. If your day hasn’t gone well, the course is not engaging, or you feel like the training you are doing is a waste of time, you will NOT learn and retain that information.

The Impact of Learning on Healthcare Outcomes

“Inadequate and inappropriate knowledge…may have serious health consequences and a significant impact on the environment as well” (Mathur et al, 2011).

It is often said that training in healthcare, especially online annual required training, is not created to improve outcomes. That is simply not true. The article referenced above is about training on the management of biomedical waste, which is an annual requirement typically at the state level. The article goes on to discuss the clear difference in outcomes when learners do not know or cannot recall the information that is needed to perform a task. This means we must figure out a way to do a better job for our employees by engaging them in content that will enhance their knowledge retention. In order to do this, we must start by thinking about the emotions we need to evoke in them to open them up to learn.

How Experiences Can Be Changed to Positively Impact Learning

While we cannot control all the emotions a learner might experience prior to learning, we can create environments that help learners shift context and feel engaged and understood while experiencing learning. To do that online, however, takes a combination of many different inputs, from a contemporary and understandable user interface (UI) to content. This promotes growth and retention by giving a learner credit for what they know and engaging them in a way they want to be engaged.

Engaging Learners with Content—How Do We Do That?

There are several ways to get learners to better engage with content—the number one way, based on adult learning theory, is to put it into context. We must answer the question, “Why is this important to me?” Once we do that, we begin to open the door for an individual to learn. From there, we must consider their individual needs by considering what they already know and focusing on what they do not know—once again reinforcing that the material is important and relevant to them as an individual. Today, there are rules engines and algorithms that do that, and we call it adaptive learning. This is the crux of contemporary online adult learning because it is the most efficient and effective way to reinforce that the training is relevant to the individual. The cherry on top for a learner is when the content is delivered to them in their preferred medium (i.e., video, text, scenarios, etc.). This one is particularly difficult to achieve but can be done with the right adaptive engine.

Improving the Learning Experience Is Far from Impossible

Making healthcare learning better and more effective is happening at HealthStream. We have already released many forms of adaptive learning and are continuing to grow and change what it means to adapt to an organization as well as an individual. We are taking select content in the compliance space and breaking it down into engaging, bite-sized microlearning assets that give more options for adaptation. We are not stopping there and will continue to improve the user experience for both the learner and the administrator.

HealthStream is here to help you ease into the future of learning. We think the future is bright when we all work together to improve outcomes through effective and efficient healthcare training.


Lawson , C. (2002, January 1). The Connections Between Emotions and Learning. Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://www.cdl.org/articles/the-connections-between-emotions-and-learning/

Mathur, V., Hassan, M., Dwivedi, S., & Misra, R. (2011). Knowledge, attitude, and practices about biomedical waste management among healthcare personnel: A cross-sectional study. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 36(2), 143. doi: 10.4103/0970-0218.84135

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