The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in eLearning

There’s been much debate over the years concerning the value placed on intelligence testing and the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a measure of aptitude in formal education, and in the workplace.

With its basis on intellect, IQ testing gives a measure of an individual’s cognitive abilities, or their capacity to perceive, learn, and understand. And people with higher IQs need to exert less mental effort to perform well in certain academic and professional activities than individuals with lower values.

But to assume that a high IQ automatically translates into greater success at work and in life would be incorrect. There are other forms of intelligence which characterise the human condition and have an impact on our performance. Among these is emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

A concept developed in the mid-1990s and first named by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, Emotional Intelligence or EI (sometimes known as the Emotional Quotient, EQ) is a measure of an individual’s capacity for recognising and managing their own emotions, and perceiving and dealing with the feelings of others – either collectively, or on an individual basis.

Generally speaking, those with higher Emotional Intelligence find it easier to build and maintain relationships with other people, and to be a part of group situations. They also have a greater understanding of their own psychological and emotional state – a condition which can extend to effectively managing stressful situations.

Interestingly, there’s no direct link between having a high IQ and having high emotional intelligence. There are people with high IQs and low EQ, high scores for both, and so on.

Researcher Daniel Goleman and others have identified several key areas of personal skill or competency in Emotional Intelligence, each of which may be explored in eLearning applications.


This involves becoming aware of and understanding your emotions as they occur and change. Awareness must be accompanied by an accurate internal assessment of what these emotions mean, and having the self-confidence to decide whether indulging them or not would be appropriate and/or constructive, in any given situation.

In eLearning…

For learners, recognising and differentiating between emotions in themselves and others may involve learning how to recognise changes in body language, tone of voice, and facial or verbal expressions.

In eLearning, learners might be asked to look back on their participation in an exercise and their feelings and behaviour during it, or to reflect more deeply on the opinions they share in discussion forums, to discover the emotional foundation of their particular viewpoints. Another approach is to ask for their impressions of dramatic stories, video clips, or images contained within the course.

Self-Regulation or Self-Management

Self-regulation governs how well individuals manage the emotions they experience at any time. It involves a degree of adaptability and self-control, and carries over into the actions an individual performs as a result of the emotions they’re feeling. There’s also an aspect of logic and thought, as emotions tend to influence what an individual focuses on in a given situation, and their behaviour.

In eLearning…

Role-play and multi-level scenarios are ideal for exploring self-management skills in eLearning. Storylines may be crafted to reflect real-world situations such as the learners would encounter in the workplace or in public, with branches reflecting the positive or negative consequences of their emotionally-driven actions. This should also include the effect that learners have on other people in the scenario.


This aspect covers an individual’s desire for achievement and self-improvement, their level of commitment and enthusiasm for attaining goals, their degree of resilience and optimism, and their capacity to capitalise on opportunities as they present themselves. The way in which a person manages their time is also a factor here.

In eLearning…

This one’s the driving force of Emotional Intelligence, and learners should be encouraged to set goals for themselves, and to document their achievements as they reach each milestone on their journey. Game-play is ideally suited to this purpose, and gamification elements like merit badges and points-scoring may be employed to help learners track their progress.


The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes (assume their perspective or viewpoint), and to actively recognise and share in what they’re feeling is a key element of inter-personal relations. Empathy extends to both individuals and groups, and may manifest as political awareness, a tendency to serve others, and a recognition of the value of diversity.

In eLearning…

Learners should be encouraged to listen, and observe the spoken and non-verbal signals given off by others. Asking questions to determine what others are thinking and feeling – and seeking feedback to ensure that the information was interpreted correctly – should be part of this aspect of the course. Learners should also be reminded to be circumspect, to recognise the rights of others to their own opinions, and to exercise tact and consideration in what they state verbally, and in documented communications.

Simulations and scenarios are a useful tool for exploring and developing empathy. Stories should feature a diverse range of emotionally driven characters, with tasks engineered to test how learners deal with the individual quirks of each case.

Social Skills

Teamwork, conflict management, leadership, persuasion: all of these (and more) come within the remit of social skills. These often manifest as being easy to relate to, a good listener, a good team player, or simply as charisma and charm. Some are born with these skills; others have to work at them.

In eLearning…

Group-based exercises are essential here, and learners should be put in a situation where they’ll need to collaborate and interact with others to achieve a common goal. This could be anything from assembling an archive to creating a presentation.

Emotional Intelligence at Work

In an eLearning context or in the workplace, the effective use of Emotional Intelligence leads to a better understanding of the emotions of an individual and his/her colleagues, which translates into better inter-personal relations, a more congenial environment, and enhanced productivity.

Researchers at The Carnegie Institute of Technology estimate that Emotional Intelligence outweighs the IQ by a ratio of 80:20, in terms of personal success. So while a high IQ can ensure a person’s success through 20% of their life, the remaining 80% is attributable to Emotional Intelligence.

It’s not just a nebulous science.

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