Every so often I come across something I wish I’d written or been involved in. ‘Don’t be tone deaf! Creating tone of voice in eLearning’, a webinar run by Cammy Bean and Kirstie Greany of Kineo, is one such thing.
I didn’t attend the webinar itself but the slides struck a chord with me. Perhaps it’s because I come to instructional design from a ‘wordy’ background rather than an IT or psychology background, but tone of voice is something I’m pretty passionate about.
Cammy and Kirstie set out a great five rule framework for writing ‘engaging, exciting and yawn proof content’, plus three bonus tips. Take a look at the slideshow to find out what they are.
In addition to those eight rules, here are my own top tips (in no particular order) for energising your e-learning:
- Write the way you talk. An e-learning course is not an academic paper, a business report, a legal document or an instruction manual. So don’t emulate any of those. Instead, emulate the tone of voice, pace and language used by a great classroom instructor.
- Have a conversation. Just because you can’t see your learners doesn’t mean you’re excused from talking to them as people. Ask questions, tap into their experiences, make references to their world. Make them feel that you’re engaging with them, not lecturing at them.
- Break the rules. Yes, an e-learning course should be free of typos and grammatical errors. But I do think that rules are there to be broken. As long as it doesn’t make it hard to understand, what’s the harm in using contractions or starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’?
- Take the ‘breath test’. Online text can be hard to read, so limit the amount of text on a screen, watch the line length and keep sentences short and sweet. Read it aloud and give it the ‘breath test': can you get to the end of your sentence without running out of breath?
- Stay focused. Don’t assume that all the ‘must have’ information provided by subject matter experts and stakeholders really is ‘must have’. Flex your editor’s elbow and be firm: if it doesn’t directly contribute to the learning outcomes, put it somewhere else.
- Get a second opinion. Want to check your course is easy to read, without cutting out too much? Use the ‘gist test’. Give it to someone who doesn’t know the subject (friend, neighbour, colleague…) and check they get the key messages without having to reach for a dictionary.
- Don’t go overboard. As always, it’s a question of balance. Don’t undermine your content with too many colloquialisms, puns or witticisms. Yes, it’s got to be engaging, interesting and easy to read, but it’s also got to do its job.
I expand on these tips and give some examples in an article I wrote last year called ‘Writing for the reader’ and Cathy Moore’s also big on this. I’ve linked before to her ‘Dump the drone’ slideshow, but I’m linking to it again because it really is a great resource and, if you haven’t looked at it already, you should.
So there you go – 15 quick tips to help you breathe a little life into your e-learning!