In our recent post on adding humor within an eLearning setting, we talked about knowing when to draw the line. And that got us thinking.

How do you know how to avoid controversy within your eLearning course? Are there jokes you shouldn’t make, or issues you should avoid?

In this post, we’ll discuss how you can be mindful and considerate of your audience by avoiding those hot-button issues within your coursework.

An Example of What NOT to Do

You may have heard about the recent marketing campaign by Spirit Airlines, in which they promote a sexually suggestive $69 round-trip flight deal in celebration of acquiring their 69th plane.

The ad goes on to reinforce the number and not so subtly make innuendos. While the marketing team at Spirit might have seen the campaign as edgy and comedic, many viewers and social media commenters were quick to disagree.

A search on Twitter showed many angry Tweets from people who felt the ads went too far.

As you can see, not everyone found as much humor in the play on words as the airline did.

Untitledspirit airlines tweet

This illustrates the importance of keeping your puns and dashes of humor in check. When you go too far, your audience is distracted by the crudeness and it detracts from your eLearning material.

How to Avoid Controversy

When you’re searching for ways to make your eLearning course more engaging and memorable, don’t reach for the types of humor that lead to impassioned debates. Avoid any type of reference that takes a stance on:

-Political views


-Sexual orientation

-Immoral behavior

-Sports teams


-Environmental issues

Instead, your eLearning course should be enriched with feel-good references that make the material you’re teaching more relatable. These might be puns or jokes centered around the common ground for the industry your course focuses on.

Keep it PG, and don’t try to make references that are obscure or take considerable thought processing to digest.

The Damage of Controversy in eLearning Courses

You might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal with avoiding controversial issues? Can’t people take a joke? Why is everyone so sensitive?”

The core of the issue is that when the focus comes off the material you’re teaching, your learners are distracted from their one main goal: Learning.

Distracted learners have lower retention rates, and when they become angry because of a joke your course made, you’ve got a big problem. Now your client is upset, and what you thought was a silly pun is now putting the company at risk.

In some cases, you may even be putting yourself in line for a lawsuit.

Conduct a Controversy Audit

It’s a good idea to have several different people review your eLearning course and check it for any references that might set off a learner or client. In some cases, you might be welcoming a heated debate without even realizing it.

Humor should add to your eLearning course—not set off emotional alarms. Remember the topics to avoid and strive for little chuckles, not a gasp.