How Empathy Increases Student Engagement and Success

It’s no secret that student success is more important than ever in the education sector. One often overlooked practice that can improve student success is empathy.  

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Engaging with empathy helps students feel like they belong and contributes to their well-being and success. Decades of research have shown that cultivating a sense of belonging is strongly linked to student success. Engaging with empathy is one way to help students feel like they belong. 

And while empathy is a simple concept, it can be challenging to apply that to practice precisely because it is so simple. So what does empathy in education look like in practice, and why is it so important? And how can AI help cultivate empathy? This post delves into the power of empathy and insights into how AI can facilitate an empathetic culture that leads to student success.  

How Empathy Facilitates a Sense of Belonging

Imagine a classroom where students feel comfortable taking risks and asking questions, or a financial aid advisor’s office where students can share the financial challenges they face without judgement. These scenarios are the result of a sense of belonging, and empathy is the starting point for feeling like one belongs.  

Engaging with empathy empowers students to meet their full potential. In a learning setting, empathy translates to educators actively seeking to see things from a student’s perspective. This can involve understanding a student’s background and experiences. A student struggling in math might be facing challenges at home that are impacting their focus. It can also look like recognizing non-verbal cues, like understanding that a student who seems withdrawn might be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Engaging with empathy can also be validating students’ emotions and letting them know that their feelings are heard and understood. 

By demonstrating empathy, educators create a culture where students feel safe, respected, and valued for who they are. Using empathy to foster a sense of belonging has many benefits. Empathetic practices can help increase student engagement, for example. Students are more likely to participate actively, ask questions and take risks in a supportive environment. This is because they feel understood and safe.  

Empathy can also help in classroom learning settings. Practicing and teaching empathy encourages students to see things from their peers’ perspectives, leading to better teamwork and problem-solving skills. Here, empathy can result in positive collaboration and ultimately lead to feeling a strong sense of belonging between team members.  

Why Empathy Matters: The Formula for Student Success

Empathy isn’t just about making students feel good; it’s an essential part of the formula for student success. Empathy allows educators to see beyond quantitative measures of success like grades and test scores and gain a deeper understanding of what students need to succeed. They can consider a student’s individual circumstances, learning styles, and emotional well-being, leading to more effective strategies in classrooms and throughout a school or college.  

Without empathy, it can be hard to have a culture of belonging. When students don’t feel like they belong at their school or college, it can negatively affect their success. Students can feel isolated or out of place. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they isolate themselves, don’t ask for support, and ultimately don’t succeed. Students who are from underrepresented backgrounds, like students of color, student parents, and first-generation students, are more at risk for feeling like they don’t belong. Empathy can help them feel like they belong and aid in their success.  

Ultimately, fostering empathy leads to a more positive and productive learning environment. Students feel empowered to take ownership of their learning, leading to greater academic achievement and a stronger sense of belonging. 

Ways to Engage with Empathy in Education

The concept of engaging with empathy seems so straightforward that it can be hard to know exactly how to implement it in daily practices. Shifting culture is an important component for practicing empathy with students. Schools and colleges can shift their culture from just hearing students to actually listening to them. This empathetic practice involves understanding a student based on their behaviors and what they express, followed by implementing practices that support students.  

Taking a modified approach to the golden rule is another way that schools and colleges can create a more empathetic culture. Instead of treating others as one would like to be treated, shift to treating others as they would like to be treated. This slight shift can have significant results because it puts students at the center.  

Today’s students have a lot on their plate and demand student-centric approaches. Students are used to this because of highly personalized products and services like Netflix or Amazon and are increasingly expecting it from their education too. Treating students the way they want to be treated shows the school or college understands them and cares about them. This is empathy in action.  

Other practices like active listening, asking open-ended questions, and using mistakes as learning opportunities are ways that schools and colleges can use empathy to help students succeed. While these are great practices, implementing empathy at scale can be challenging. This is where technology, particularly AI, can play a valuable role. 

How AI Can Help Create a Culture of Empathy

AI can be a powerful tool to create a culture of empathy and help students feel like they belong. This is especially true for educators who have large caseloads of students because it can be hard to get to know students intimately.  

Artificial intelligence can facilitate a culture of empathy at scale in various ways. Personalized learning insights can empower teachers to personalize instruction and provide targeted support. That way they meet students where they are. AI can also flag potential challenges for students and help educators provide early intervention. This can be an empathetic practice because it is an opportunity for an educator to understand the student and provide appropriate, empathetic support. AI can also lighten educator workloads and free up more time for them to create deeper connections with their learners.  

It can be hard to be empathetic without knowing one’s students. AI can help educators gain insight into who their students are so they can truly understand them and engage with empathy. Discourse Analytics’ AI powered Digital Counselor, for example, helps educators empathize with students by providing insights into who they are on the inside. Many analytics tools depend on demographic data to make predictions about students. But demographic data serves as a proxy as to who a student is.  

Instead of using demographics, the Digital Counselor uses behavioral data to draw insights on students’ mindsets. This allows educators to know what motivates and discourages a student and engage with them empathetically.  

Importantly, the Digital Counselor can provide valuable mindset insights at scale. That way, educators augment their ability to get to know students quickly and provide them with empathetic, personalized engagement.  

AI Can Scale Human Ability to Empathize

AI is a great tool to help educators create a culture of empathy. At the same time, it is no replacement for genuine, human empathy, nor can it create empathy on its own. Schools and colleges must pair AI tools that scale empathy with professional development opportunities that show educators how to integrate empathy in learning. Institutional policies should also incentivize and reward empathy and make empathy and belonging priorities for campus culture.  

Technology can provide valuable insights that help educators learn more about their students. And AI can scale the insights we need to learn about students efficiently so that we can engage with empathy.