They say words have power, and when it comes to shaping minds, that’s never been more true. Whether you’re teaching youth in a formal educational setting or your top CEOs are upskilling for business, what you have to say matters, but so does how you say it.
From body language clues to how engaged the tutor seems in the material, it affects how well the student will retain the information. With that in mind, let’s dive in deeper.
Human Evolution Factor
It’s important to remember that spoken language, as humans use it, is a relative newcomer to the evolutionary scene.
Not only did humans once have to communicate without words, but all animal species also have to share important information in their herd or pack without being able to verbalize it.
Of course, humans went on to develop speech, and it’s become our dominant way of connecting with others. Later, we added writing and reading skills to the mix. Both of these methods of communication rose to prominence for a reason.
Not only can we communicate more information faster, but we can also store it, process it in our own time, and reference it as we need to. This was a major contributor to the rise of human civilization and how we bond with others.
However, those base methods of non-verbal communication never went away. Instead, speech and writing evolved to improve and extend them.
Even to this day, non-verbal communication clues power up every interaction we have with others daily, from that ‘spider sense’ that tells you to stay away from a suspicious figure to the happy feeling you get when your barista serves you with a smile.
Body language and facial expression are both grouped together as ‘non-verbal communication.’ While it’s difficult to measure, most people in the know suggest up to two-thirds of our communication is actually done through non-verbal cues. That’s a massive number!
Not convinced it’s that high?
We don’t blame you. Speech is so dominant in how we communicate that it’s easy to not notice how much of our information and opinions about what we are hearing are driven by how the person said it, not necessarily what they said.
Consider this scenario: you see a group of boys harassing a young teen girl at the bus stop. You ask if she’s ok. She replies that she is. However, you notice:
1) That she seems very confident, maybe even a little bored, and has only eye rolls for the boys.
2) She’s shaking, with her arms crossed very defensively, and she’s uncomfortable meeting your eyes.
In scenario one, you’d likely believe her words, probably deciding it’s just some friendly teasing from a younger brother and his friends.
In scenario two, however, you aren’t going to believe everything is actually okay, are you?
Yet, in both scenarios, the words and the people involved were identical. That difference you pick up on automatically is your brain registering all the other non-verbal communication happening in the scenario.
These two scenarios show not only the power of non-verbal communication itself but also how whether it’s in sync with our words also matters.
In the first case, everything matches well, leaving you confident that her words were true.
In the second, her non-verbal communication is very different from her verbal communication, and her words don’t seem true at all.
We have over 20 muscles in the face alone, so facial expression becomes a critical driver of much of our non-verbal communication.
So, there’s little surprise that these non-verbal but highly communicative means of expression became an important part of how we communicate and learn.
Even in the work-from-home and hybrid-working model now dominating our workforces, people like to reach out over channels like Zoom and Google Teams to touch base and interact with other team members.
While a quick email or text can get the job done, humans still like to experience other humans. Not only does this increase our emotional connection to each other, but it’s also a way of ‘validating’ what we’re hearing.
While it’s not the only factor in that deep-seated need for human connection, the fact that a visual connection with a mobile human face brings all our established non-verbal communication factors back into play is a major psychological reason for that preference.
Problem in Online Learning
Non-verbal communication and how it pairs with the spoken word have always mattered in the classroom. We can all bring to mind one teacher who always seemed bored to tears with their subject but never understood why their class hated it, too.
The difference between an animated, enthusiastic instructor with a passion for the material and a bored, disconnected instructor plodding through notes with little engagement is tremendous.
However, as learning has become so digital, the problem is larger than ever. Yes, putting a lot of effort into creating engaging e-learning materials that play to all learning styles, using a variety of formats, and imparting information smartly does a lot to help.
Additionally, engaging all four of those basic learning styles, visual, touch, auditory, and reading/writing, helps ensure all learners feel supported.
But even the best learning materials can’t replace the power of a human connection.
What can smart educators do to create online learning material that brings back the non-verbal communication we engage so well with?
One of the simplest and most cost-effective answers lies in using virtual humans to bring back the human touch.
With modern AI technology, it’s possible to create videos from set scripts, which will be re-rendered into a video complete with a ‘living’ human experience.
If you’ve found your e-learning materials, no matter how carefully crafted, lacking a certain something, it could well be the emotional connection we have with people and their facial expressions.
Seeking to replicate that in the online classroom brings another powerful layer of engagement (and motivation) to the e-learning experience.