Better e-learning – Day 4: Tone of voice, style and character

After two long – but well spent – days focusing exclusively on improving your e-learning interactions, it’s time for something a little different.

Today we’re going to look at how we can bring your e-learning course to life and inject some personality into it. (For me, this is the really fun bit!)

As always, rather than simply tell you what I think, first of all I’m going to share what my webinar participants said when I asked them: what small changes can you make to your existing e-learning course to bring it to life?

Avatars are a great idea but within the constraints of our contrived scenario we probably can’t realistically incorporate these. They are a great aspiration though and something that’s definitely feasible in a more realistic situation – and don’t let the word ‘avatar’ put you off. It doesn’t have to mean virtual world style characters; many of the same benefits can be achieved simply through adding photographs of narrators or characters, for example.

Just as we found yesterday, there are more changes we could make to inject some life into your e-learning than we can possibly hope to achieve in a day. I’ve highlighted four that I think are quick, easy and high impact but ultimately it’s up to you to select the things that are most important to and will make the most difference in your organisation.

  • Apply some imagination to your titles

It’s Thursday morning and I know your creative brain might need a little time to warm up, so we’re not going to get stuck into the detail of the text in your course just yet. Instead, let’s spend some time seeing what we can do with the titles.

I think this is a great place to start, because the course title has a big impact on first impressions. I suspect many e-learning courses are effectively nameless until they’re completed, when a descriptive but not particularly engaging label is attached. This makes me sad for two reasons. Firstly, the course title is your chance to set the tone for the learning experience and to make sure your learners come to that experience in a positive frame of mind. Secondly, coming up with creative course titles can be really enjoyable.

I’d recommend thinking about it throughout the project lifecycle, jotting down ideas as and when they come to you, rather than setting aside a particular slot in your schedule to come up with the name. Having said that, I am putting you on the spot now with a challenge to review and improve your course title. To give you some inspiration, here’s what we came up with when I gave my wonderful webinar participants the same challenge.

Everyone came up with very different ideas, and in this there is no right and wrong. Clearly you need to consider the culture and constraints of your workplace, but a brainstorming session like this might well throw up some ideas for pushing the bounds of what you can do within those constraints. It’s a great exercise for challenging yourself to be a little more imaginative.

So once you’ve come up with a refreshed and revamped title for your course, see if you can take this further. Review the module or unit titles, and even the individual screen headings, to see where you might be able to inject a little burst of creativity. Remember, this is a quick and easy way to change the atmosphere of the course and influence learners’ first impressions.

  • Add contractions and shorten sentences

A friendly, conversational tone of voice is something that was suggested by a few webinar participants and this is definitely one of my top tips for improving an e-learning course. It almost goes without saying that an e-learning course which adopts a less formal and more natural ‘voice’ is more enjoyable and user-friendly than a very stuffy, formal course.

So how do you make your course’s voice more conversational? One of the easiest ways is to add in contractions: replace most instances of is not with isn’t, and so on. This reflects the way we speak in everyday conversation and is instantly easier and more pleasant to read. You don’t necessarily need to add a contraction in every single case; I’d suggest reading the text aloud to yourself, as this is the best way to discover where it sounds forced or unnatural. Those are the places where contractions will make the most difference.

Reading aloud will also help you identify any sentences that are too long and convoluted. If you’re struggling to get to the end of the sentence without taking a breath, perhaps you can rephrase it. These are quick and easy changes that really do have a big impact on the overall feel of your course.

  • Switch from third-person to first- and second-person

How many courses have you seen which talk about ‘the business’ or ‘the organisation’ and the things ‘it’ requires from ‘its employees’? Regardless of the content, for me this instantly creates a ‘them and us’ impression and the feel of top-down instruction.

I’d much rather my e-learning courses were inclusive and personal, and I’m sure you would too. Your learners all work for the same organisation, after all, don’t they? Luckily, this is not difficult to fix. It’s just a case of reworking the text from third-person (‘the business’, ‘employees’) to first-person (‘we’, ‘us’) and second-person (‘you’). Yes, this will probably take a bit of time – and it’s important to be consistent so you’ll probably need to check it through a second time in case you missed anything – but it’ll be worth it.

  • Add real-life examples or employee quotes

I’m probably being a little cheeky including this one as you couldn’t really do this on Thursday afternoon without having done some prior preparation. Nonetheless, you may well have some case studies, quotes and war or success stories from people in the business that are perfect for illustrating your key messages. Now is the time to dig them out and see where they might fit in. Just one or two will do, so don’t panic if you don’t have reams of examples to hand.

Obviously there are lots of different ways you could integrate this kind of material using animations, video, photos and audio. But even without much time or money, the benefit of this material can still be delivered simply by adding it in text format. It might just be a sentence or two here and there to illustrate a key point – perhaps highlighted using italics or bold formatting if you really want it to stand out. Even this low-tech approach will help add character.

So despite having no graphic design resource, we’ve made some significant changes today to the overall feel of your e-learning course, simply through making some subtle changes to the way things are written. You’ve now got a friendly, lively course that will make a positive first impression on your learners and maintain that impression throughout.

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2 thoughts on “Better e-learning – Day 4: Tone of voice, style and character

  1. Pingback: e-learning, Day 4: Tone of voice, style and character « Things I grab, motley collection

  2. Pingback: Five days to better e-learning: recap | Good To Great

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