Understanding Aesthetics and its Education Relevance

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By Education Today

Posted on April 5, 2022


6 min read

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At first glance aesthetics and learning may appear to be disintegrated concepts with no common ground. Ultimately, learning is about attaining and retaining information, which is a conscious action. But aesthetics (derived from the Greek word aisthanomai which means I perceive, feel, sense) is an emotional reaction to any object or experience, which is not a conscious effort. Thus, cognition and emotion have long been thought of as separate systems. However, current inception of the concept of cognitive neuroscience points to a tangible connection between human cognition and emotion. 

To delve deeper into this, let’s ask ourselves the following questions. How can we recall the lyrics of various songs heard ages ago but not what we studied last night? We can easily recollect incidences from our past but not repeat what was taught in class an hour ago. We remember intricate plots of movies but forget the dates in a history test. How do we explain the selective memory of our brain? If we systematically categorise all things we remember with ease and all things we woefully forget even after concerted efforts, we’d find one common attribute. We find it easier to remember things that evoke positive emotions in us. This theory can be explained by study of a part of our brain, called the amygdala.

As per recent findings in neuroscience, amygdala contributes to how memories are stored, as storage is influenced by stress hormones. Amygdala is responsible for memory consolidation too and it programs memories which are emotionally simulating at a deeper level, thus transferring new learning into permanent memory. Once it’s established that emotional responses alter and direct cognition to enable adaptive responses to the environment, we can apply this learning into developing better course material to enhance cognitive learning from a young age. Our emotions impact our perception, attention, memory and decision making. And with increasing competition and stress, it is of paramount importance to interlink positive emotions in our learning environment. Various psychological perspectives regard aesthetic experience as a rewarding process and suggest a link between aesthetic experience and pleasure. In fact, studies reviewed so far reveal that the aesthetic value of artwork and their use in educational programs may affect psychological and physiological states, thus promoting welfare and boosting the learning experience. To inculcate positive emotion in learning, emotional pedagogical design can be adopted. Emotional design is used to stimulate the learner’s feelings which in turn would positively influence their motivation and accelerate their learning curve. Thus a shift is coming in pedagogical design and along with instructional design, visual design is gaining traction amongst the academic community.

With the focus shifting to e-learning, visual learning is going to have greater impact on learners in the coming years. Visual learning is essentially using aesthetics to make learning not only a positive experience but also making content easy to access and thus grasp. The key is to keep the content as clean and balanced as possible, visually. In visual design, the content should speak for itself and visual weight should be assigned based on how critical the information is. Texture is one of the visual tools that can create depth and highlight focal elements. White space is another tool to make content more readable. The right balance between positive and negative space would avoid both busy and blank spaces. In every domain of design, colour psychology is vital. To form an emotional connection between the content and learners, one should learn to link apt colour with suitable content. Nowadays, learners are not looking for just content or instructional learning. They demand an immersive experience and creating that environment is one of the challenges in e-learning portals. Annual Digital Study Trends Survey conducted by McGraw-Hill indicates that four out five students found digital learning helpful in improving their grades. Students are inclining to digital learning as it offers the option of controlling the pace of learning from the comfort of their homes.

When we speak of aesthetics, it doesn’t only apply to the content but also to the learning atmosphere. To create a positive affective state, understanding the link between atmosphere and aesthetics should be the outset for classroom learning. Nowadays, aesthetics is no longer only a theory of art, but has reclaimed its fundamental calling: to be a general theory of perception envisioned of as an everyday experience of pre-logical character. For students, classroom is a place where they spend more time than their homes and to create a conducive learning environment, one needs to feel at home. The first step to be taken is to make a shift from the institutional setting. From the light temperature to the noises in the surrounding area, every aspect of the space affects the learning environment. Classroom layout, sources of light, wall and ceiling finishes, flooring: they all have an impact on our psychology and thus on our learning ability. To minimise distractions and maximise concentration, most institutional designs adopt white walls, straight lines and grey cold floors. But to obliterate any design feature through the agency of improving productivity is a misinterpretation. An effective design can incorporate light, colour, texture, warm tones, exciting elements without being overwhelming. One thing that is missing from all institutional design is flexibility. The subjects taught in schools and colleges are not of the same nature and learners need to access different parts of their brain to learn various subjects. Some subjects may demand undivided attention while some may require a source of inspiration. Thus, conducting all classes in the same space doesn’t allow the brain to flex its muscles. A study was conducted, in which the introductory phase of lesson was conducted in classroom and the subsequent learning phase was conducted in a museum for 50% of students and in the same classroom for the other half. It was concluded in the study that the students from the museum group learnt more as compared to the classroom group. This can be one example to show that change in environment and field trips can have significant positive effects on students’ learning and motivation.

For thousands of years individuals have been relying on arts to connect, express and heal. As a matter of fact, art therapy is used to treat patients suffering from learning disabilities, brain injuries or even mental health problems. Creating art is also beneficial for our minds and thus obviously for our learning because while creating art, people are able to focus on their own awareness, imagination, and emotions. Art and aesthetics and their connection with our cognitive development is verified by many scholars and scientists. But practical application of the same is instrumental in stepping up the learning game. From the twentieth to the twenty first century, education and expectation from students have evolved radically. With changing times and growing competition, accelerating the learning curve is necessary. It is in the hand of both academicians and bureaucrats to appropriately initiate and implement art programs, aesthetic enhancements and visual design in institutions and schools to prepare the students to adapt, assess and update themselves in changing situations.