For a lot of reasons, eLearning is an amazing way to train people. It helps you deliver a consistent message to your trainees. It’s almost infinitely scalable, with virtually no incremental delivery costs. And it allows you to set up situations that would be difficult (or impossible) to safely arrange in a real environment. That said, if eLearning isn’t done right, it can be pretty painful to sit through. Sitting…staring at a screen…taking a brutally boring course…alone…can make you think pretty evil things about the person who’s forcing you to sit through that abomination.
You see, live classroom training is all about people and social interaction while learning. On the contrary, the “anywhere, anytime” aspect of eLearning removes the core human element inherent in “same time, same place” learning. As a result, poorly executed eLearning can feel a bit robotic (DANGER Will Robinson). So in this article, let’s look at design strategies to humanize your eLearning and guarantee you keep people engaged (with no evil thoughts).
Talk Like a Human (That Has Personality)
Have you ever heard someone (or listened to yourself) talking to Google (or Siri / Alexa)? They don’t talk in their normal voice. They emphasize unexpected words, rarely use contractions, and speak with an unusual cadence. Do people feel they need to talk LIKE a robot to talk TO a robot? Unfortunately some of these unnatural speech patterns can also happen when people are writing an eLearning script. They put their formal pants on and start writing like they’re talking to the Queen of England.
The problem is, normal people don’t talk that way. Verbal communication is one of the most uniquely human traits, so if you aren’t writing the way people are used to hearing, you’re losing your engagement. This goes for the sound of the voice as well. OBVIOUSLY, never use text-to-speech for actual courses. But even with real narrators, for everything but the most formal course topics, err on the side of too casual. Narration almost never comes out as “conversational” as you hoped.
The bottom line: Humanize your eLearning by making sure you write and narrate your courses the way people actually speak in day-to-day life. It’s really easy to fall into a pattern of writing or narrating too formally, but this takes away from the everyday human connection people are used to hearing.
We’ve said before, emotion is an under-utilized engagement technique in eLearning. One of the things that ties all of us together, and makes us care about the plight of other people, is an emotional connection. So why don’t people use this technique in training? Create a scenario using sadness, based on a family who lost their house in a storm. Or use a playful fear of failing, by creating a timed interaction. These draw on emotional reactions to hook learner attention, resulting in better retention.
Think about some of the strongest memories you have. They’re certainly connected to strong emotions you’ve felt. Some negative; others positive. These connections can add that human element to your courses and help create strong mental connections.
The bottom line: Why not leverage the power of emotion in your eLearning courses? It will humanize your eLearning by solidifying learner connection to the content, and it’ll make a huge impact with learner recall. This all leads to them adopting what you’re trying to teach them.
Use What Motivates Your Audience
What’s in it for me? Period!
The bitter reality is that most learners will not inherently care about most of your content. But the odds are that your content relates, in some way, to something they DO care about. Say you’re teaching a course to salespeople, trying to reduce your client return rate. If you say “returns from last quarter cost the company $1 million,” most learners won’t care about sticking it to the man. However, if you tell them “the returns from last quarter resulted in an average of $10,000 of lost commission for each salesperson,” their ears will perk up. Find what matters and connect your content to that. It will make a huge difference.
The bottom line: Don’t rely on learners to identify why your course should be important to them. Hit them over the head with it if you have to. If you can’t connect your content to something your audience cares about, you’re doomed.
Since the early days of humans, we’ve conveyed information through stories. Whether it’s cavemen throwing in a few woolly mammoths or customer service talking about difficult clients, a good story can spice things up. And not only that, but adding context to facts helps make things more interesting and relatable.
Imagine the difference between these two approaches:
- Training new lifeguards by listing out regulations and describing their need to pay attention at all times.
- Conveying the importance of following guidelines by telling a story of a time when a swimmer almost died during a lifeguard’s shift.
Listing facts is listing facts. Nobody cares. But if you can tell a compelling story that articulates the importance of those facts, you can connect them to something learners can grasp. So, regarding the lifeguard training, identify a situation that articulates the consequences of someone not following procedures. Describe someone swimming in the pool and how quickly they went from playing safely to floundering and in trouble. If your story connects the behavior to the outcome in a compelling way, learners will remember the story (and the facts associated) far longer than the facts alone.
The bottom line: People don’t remember facts unless they’re connected to something they care about. Don’t rely on them to make that connection. Build the facts into an interesting story and it will resonate with them.
Allow Users to Make Choices
Choices are at the heart of adult learning theory. As can be found in countless studies, adults need to be involved in planning their instruction and evaluating their results. This gives them the feeling of collaboration versus delegation, which goes a long way in regard to engagement and retention. There are a variety of ways that choice can be implemented in your courses:
A pre-test approach allows learners to demonstrate their abilities and then evaluate their results. Depending on how you structure your course, learners can use the feedback they receive to determine which sections require further review. Assuming all of this is leading up to a “final exam” they’re in control of what to review, what order to review it, and how much to review it before moving on. This makes them accountable for their own progress and success.
Similar to the pre-test structure above, this let’s learners choose their own path. Say you have a course with core content that everyone needs, you make that mandatory for all learners. But if you have additional content that is “elective” in that it isn’t relevant to everyone, you can give people the choice of which sections to review. Users select the areas that pertain to them and skip the ones that don’t.
In addition to providing choices across topics, this approach can be used for selecting the depth of information within topics as well. This concept is known as scaffolding. You present the basic level of knowledge to learners, and then they have the choice of learning more if they choose. This lets users familiar with the topic to skim by, while those wanting or needing more detailed explanations can dig deeper.
Branching scenarios provide a different type of choice for learners. This strategy describes a specific set of circumstances and requires the learner to make decisions based on the situation. Well-crafted scenarios present users with a multitude of gray-area responses, and feedback is given by displaying the outcome of each decision. User choices drive the story and each subsequent dilemma is contextual, based on the implications created by the user’s prior choices.
These activities can be extremely engaging and very powerful learning tools. Even without a ton of sophistication, they can represent robust choices for learners to make. Feedback is not given using explicit correct / incorrect, but rather with the subtlety of describing the outcome. With visual scenarios, this could be the look on someone’s face. Or with narration, by altering the tone of voice in their response. Real life requires people to navigate the nuances of personal interaction, and a well put together scenario mimics this requirement.
The bottom line: When adults have control, they’re more vested in what they’re doing. Giving them choices and letting them choose their path goes a long way toward humanizing your eLearning. Also, make sure to give them feedback and allow them the opportunity to course correct based on the feedback they receive.
Use Pictures of People
What makes something feel more human, than looking human? I mean, think of how much we anthropomorphize animals.
We’re constantly looking for human qualities in other things, because humans are what we empathize with the most. So naturally, adding pictures of other humans will humanize your eLearning. But even more resonating than groups of people, are pictures clearly showing people’s faces. We’re so adept at interpreting non-verbal communication, that the emotion portrayed in our imagery can be a powerful way to drive home a connection.
In many instances, this can be furthered by using a coach (or avatar) as a central spokesperson. This doesn’t need to be a character on the screen all the time. But by putting a face to the voice they hear, it can further their connection. Classroom training has an instructor learners can focus on, whereas eLearning can come off as a disembodied voice. Adding a face to that voice can make that voice relatable.
The bottom line: People relate to other people. So use plenty of pictures with people in them to humanize your eLearning. As appropriate, use images that convey the emotion you’re trying to communicate.
Humanize Your eLearning or Lose Your Learners
With the preponderance of viral videos these days, people are subjected to “humanized” content more and more. If you don’t find ways to create that same connection with your eLearning, learners will never fully buy into your courses. This was not an exhaustive list of how to humanize your eLearning, but it can start you off in the right direction. Whether you use these tactics, or come up with others, make sure to create something that people can grab onto. Make sure your eLearning is compelling…or else.
Need help to humanize your eLearning? Let us help!