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Learning for Chocolate

By Susan Landay / February 2011

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Learning for Chocolate

February 16, 2011

Even when I am on a diet, I can usually justify a small piece of dark chocolate as an afternoon pick-me-up. After all it's rich in anti-oxidants and, better yet, eating dark chocolate has been found to increase the levels of endorphins released into the brain—excellent news to knowledge trainers like myself.

Now, I am no brain scientist, but I have read enough about brain-based learning to know this: Stress, bad for learning. Endorphins, good. So, it is understandable why many classroom trainers and presenters entice participation with chocolate. Chocolate stimulates the brain.

But there is more to it than meets the eye (or the tongue). We human-types like rewards. Rewards and recognition make us feel good. They inspire us to perform and participate.

If you will pardon the pun, learners are often "hungry" for acknowledgement, because they are already pushing their comfort zone in a number of ways—by trying something new, in an environment where they're not necessarily socially comfortable.

In a live classroom-learning environment, trainers looking to reduce stress and energize learning find many occasions and methods to acknowledge and encourage active engagement with their learning material, including:

  1. Smiling or a nodding when a participant answers correctly.
  2. Awarding a small prize for the table that came up with the most ideas.
  3. Validating a student's contribution by recording it on an overhead or flipchart.
  4. Distributing course completion certificates.
  5. Giving out a piece of chocolate when someone asks a good question.
And some rewards do not come from the facilitator, but from the participants' innate desire to grow and succeed. Learning experiences are rewarding when individuals feel the thrill of conquering a difficult topic or win a really challenging team game.

Rewarding online learners takes a different form, but is no less important. To recognize and inspire participation and performance can be both easier and more difficult in the online world. Simple participation can be easily incorporated by requiring learners to type a response to a question before they can advance to the next screen. However, what about winning the smile of a facilitator?

Think about the many apps for children's games that focus on collecting gold stars—each one of those is a smile of sorts. Learners have been awarded with gold stars for decades, so why stop now? The next time you build an online learning module, consider where opportunities for building in accolades, smiles, and stars can be incorporated into the learning module. Such as:

  1. The first time users click or type an answer other than "next."
  2. After a correct answer is given.
  3. When a total score reaches a minimal threshold (not just 100 percent correct!)
  4. When they click through on a particular path.
  5. After reading a lengthy narrative.
  6. When they progress to a new level.
  7. After a game or exercise.
You will need to find the right balance of when and how often to offer feedback. If the feedback is too frequent, it becomes disingenuous and annoying; too infrequent, and learners derive no benefit.

And what of the chocolate? In our e-world, we sometimes forget that snail mail is still there for us. Send a small envelope with a few chocolates to pre-registered attendees. Mark the outside of the package with clear instructions that it not be opened until instructed to do so during the online session. That is sure to generate some smiles and produce endorphins.

Finally, congratulate your e-learners at the end of a program by sending along a course completion certificate on real certificate paper. It both validates the accomplishment and continues to promote your course.

Read more on chocolate and the brain:
"Boosting Brain Power—With Chocolate"
"Chocolate on the Brain"

Read more on using rewards to motivate learning:
"Using Rewards to Motivate Your Students"

About the Author

Susan Doctoroff Landay is currently the president and co-owner of Trainer's Warehouse, which develops exclusive new products and searches the world for the best tools to help trainers achieve their goals. Prior to joining the family business in 1997, She spent several years consulting and training in the field of negotiation and another few marketing a business history consulting firm. She graduated from Yale College (1986), the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University (1992), and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College (1987). Susan has written numerous articles, which have appeared in Sloan Management Review, Pfeiffer Training Annual, eLearn Magazine, Smart Meetings, and Training Magazine.


  • Fri, 04 Mar 2011
    Post by Jane

    I do not know whether chocolate can increase the stimulus to the brain. But I agree with you especially the provision of a positive attitude to online teaching.