Connecting Emotion, Motivation, Attention, Memory and Transfer

Skull Gears

Emotions and motivation are related ideas in that with more emotional connection, there is more motivation to learn.  Attention and memory are related in that with more attention to a subject, the better it is committed to memory.  A high quality use of all four of these concepts leads to the subject matter being able to be used in other environments, or in other words, the skills will be more transferable when there is a greater attachment to them.

Emotions tend to connect the learner to the content in a more intrinsic fashion.  If the learner has a stronger emotion tie to something the learner may have additional motivation to complete tasks, read through readings, thus understanding the content on a deeper cognitive level.  As (Perkins, 2009) points out, you have to get the learner deep enough into the material to make the game worth playing.  Emotion can be used to draw that learner into the game.  Finding a way to trigger an emotional response with the learner will motivate them to dive deeper into “the game” and give them a better understanding of the materials (Perkins, 2009).  This is intrinsic motivation, as the information will become more interesting to the learner who has an emotional connection (Lei, 2010).  Within my educational setting it’s difficult to connect to their emotions with some of the material.  The main way we are able to do this through our customer service model, treat others the way you want to be treated, the golden rule.  We demonstrate the emotional connection through role-playing.  Student employees act out scenes of a customer being mean or rude to our staff and the staff having to remain calm.  Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s mean, and sometimes it’s sad; all of which connect to the students which makes it more likely they will remember to stay calm in those high intensity situations.

Within my educational setting there are absolutely intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for our student employees.  The easy to identify motivators within any employment setting are extrinsic; working for pay, impressing supervisors and being better than the employee next to you (Lei, 2010).  Motivators that are harder to identify are intrinsic.  These include a desire of the employee to learn skills that are transferable to other positions.  An example of this would be or graphic designers taking on new projects that help them develop skill they can take to future graphic design or marketing jobs.  Another example of intrinsic motivation would be students who show an interest in student union careers.  These students are able to find projects that they find enjoyable.  They often learn a lot of skills or background information regarding decision making during these projects.

Attention and memory play a large role within the “hard parts” of education.  Perkins (2009) uses his personal experiences of playing the piano to demonstrate what the “hard parts” to teach are.  This example can be used to show what aspects of attention and memory should be used in anticipation and then the instruction of the “hard parts”.  Attention is defined by HAPPYneuron (2014) as “a selection process for and external…on internal…event which has to maintained at a certain level of awareness” (2014).   The hard parts of education require a great deal of attention.  Even while doing a task, the level of attention given can fluctuate which will hinder the learning process for the learner (Ahmadi, Gilakjani, & Ahmedi, 2001).  As an educator or trainer, it is important to anticipate the level of attention needed and for how long.  It would behoove the instructors to make sure there are activities focused on the hard parts that keep the attention of the learners; several short, quick activities could have the same effect over a long in-depth activity.

Memory is also important as it how learners store and recall information.  As instructors, it’s important to make the information presented memorable by using emotion to connect the material even if it’s boring (Perkins, 2009).  The information has to be stored in such a way that the learner can access it later.  While learning material, information is stored in working memory, an active form of memory making the information recalled with other thought processes (Fougnie, 2008).  Memory and attention have a close relationship.  Without attention, a learner cannot take in the information to be stored into memory (Fougnie, 2008).   Taking it a step further, a learner who is only mildly attentive may store only partial information making the memory only part of the information.  As Perkins (2009) is describing, instructors need to find ways to make sure the hard parts of the lesson are moved from working memory, a passive assessment for example, and moved into long term memory for complete understanding, actionable assessment or assessment for understanding (Perkins, 2009).

Keyboard Transfer

In relationship my learning environment, the hard parts tend lie within our leadership program.  It is a multilevel program that creates leadership opportunities at various levels.  The hardest part our students have to overcome is being the leaders of their peers but it also works for the other students (team members) as being lead by their peers.  We struggle with this all the time and trying to get them to understand the difference between personal life and work.  Getting them to understand that being given direction, or taking, isn’t a personal thing and it’s part of the job.  Most of the teachable moments actually come from their evaluations.  We use peer evaluations for the team members to evaluate their leaders. Perkins (2009) mentions that teaching the hard parts does not come without strife and it hasn’t for us as well.  I won’t say we have mastered it but we have learned a lot.  In the beginning we didn’t have a rubric for the students to use and the evaluations were either too soft or too personal.  We have since created a rubric, as well as training on how to evaluate their peers.  We have since received a lot more detailed evaluations that have real information on them.

The other hard part we try to get across are transferable skills, or “transfer of learning”, as Perkins (2009) describes it in chapter 4.  We try to get them to understand that many of the things we have them do, are transferable to other careers or workplaces.  Some of these are leadership, communication, professionalism, organization, and teamwork.  We are currently in the process defining the learning out-comes and trying to come up with ways that the students can connect more with what we are trying to do.   Using this method, student employee will have a much better grasp of what it is they are doing while working that can be used in the future.   Another method we are going to use is through resume building and development.  As students are hired they will be asked to submit their resume at which time it will be evaluated with their supervisor.  After a semester of work, they will be asked to update it using the skills they have been learning.  This will allow them to take simple things such as assisting customers and realizing that this is actually, communicate with a diverse population to help answer questions and solve simple to complex problems.  This process will be done each semester and the students will at the end of their employment (hopefully due to graduation) will have a high quality resume as well as understand what they did at the student union was not just a student job but it was also learning a multitude of transferable skills they can use in any other profession.

Additional Resource:

This Ted Talk gives examples of how teachers can use alternative methods to learn how to keep students engaged.


Ahmadi, M. R., Gilakjani, A. P., & Ahmedi, S. M. (2001). The relationship between attention and consciousness. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 2(6), 1366-1373.

Fougnie, D. (2008). The relationship between attention and working memory: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

HAPPYneuron. (2014). Attention.   Retrieved May 28, 2014, from

Lei, S. A. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Evaluating benefits and drawbacks from college instructors’ perspective. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(2), 153-160.

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

By Kyle Zive

One comment on “Connecting Emotion, Motivation, Attention, Memory and Transfer

  1. Great post, Kyle! Here’s hoping that tying in cognitive strategies to your training environment has given you some new directions in which to take your training program.

    Dr. Parker

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