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Stop Scaring Your Learners: 4 Ways to Bring Life to Boring e-Learning Scripts

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by Ann Iverson, instructional designer

It’s that time of year when all things creepy and crawly come out to play. Chances are, you’ll encounter something scary in the Halloween experience. I’m always amazed by people who actively enjoy being scared. Are you one of them? Not me. Fear seems like such an unpleasant emotion—your palms sweat, your heart beats uncomfortably hard, you feel the urge to flee quickly, and so on. So I guess I should’ve been more honest with you. Your invitation to the newly-released horror movie? I wasn’t actually home organizing my closet. And the Trail of Terror gathering? I didn’t really have car trouble on the way there. In my effort to appear fearless, I was actually hiding from the truth—the real world is often scary enough for me. I don’t need monsters and ghouls to get my heart pumping.

Take e-learning, for example. I recall mandatory courses that I’d put off for weeks because I just couldn’t handle the terror. I imagined myself clicking the dreaded link, and listening to a narrator read the screens word-for-word. Of course I could read faster, we all can, so I’d finish the screen and do some work offline before the narrator stopped talking, which was my signal to click Next again. Her frighteningly-monotone voice would make me want to scream! I was always relieved when I conquered that e-learning monster! The nightmares would stop, the sun would come out, and the world was bright and shiny again.

So, now that I design and write e-learning courses, my vow is to never torture the innocent people who are required to take them. One of the most basic ways I can do that is by writing better e-learning scripts. Good writing can make the difference between an e-learning course that frightens people and one that inspires them to pay attention. Are you with me? Here are four surefire ways to stop scaring your e-learners:

1. Be Friendly 

Friendly is a nice word, but what does it mean, exactly? Well, ask yourself, would you hang out with your e-learning course on a Saturday night? Do you like what is says and how it acts? Do you want to be with it? I don’t know about you, but I choose to hang out with people who are simple, direct, honest, and helpful. So, I write, and prefer, courses that reflect those characteristics. Give me a “straight shooter” over a complicated drama queen any day.

One easy way to be friendlier is to dump any technical terms and industry jargon that result in unnecessarily complicated language. You want your learners engaged, not working hard to decipher big words.

Sometimes, technical terms are necessary, especially in administrative, technical, mechanical, or scientific contexts. If you can’t avoid them, be sure to define technical terms the first time they occur using simple and concise language.

2. Be Human

Use real words that real people use in real conversations. If you find a “thus” or “hence” anywhere in your script, do a rewrite. It’s tempting to use academic terms when your goal is instruction, but avoid them. Using a conversational tone helps lighten the mood and makes e-learning more fun and engaging. 

Instead of this: “The core values of the company are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. Click Next to learn more about our core values.”

Try this: “Bet you’re wondering how we get things done around here. Well, we look to our core values to help us make the right decisions. Want to learn more?”

3. Give it Life

One of the best ways to bring life to e-learning courses is to avoid passive language. A sentence is in active voice when the subject takes the action, e.g., “Nick completed the lesson.” It’s in passive voice when the subject is acted upon, e.g., “The lesson was completed by Nick.” The active voice is more energetic and draws us in. Active sentences also help keep things light and simple.

Instead of this: “This course is designed so that the five steps to conflict resolution can be mastered by all learners.” 

Try this: “This course will help you learn the five steps to conflict resolution.”

4. Make an Invitation

Another way to breathe life into an e-learning course is to make an invitation that learners can’t refuse. Maybe it’s a problem that’s happened or a situation that needs support. Whatever the challenge, set it up so learners are so inspired, intrigued or influenced in some way that they’re actually excited to get started and keep going.

Instead of this: “In the next section, you will learn how to apply behavioral interviewing techniques so you can identify and hire the most qualified candidates. Click Next to learn about the interviewing process.”

Try this: “Hey! We want only the best people working here. That’s why you’re here, and we want others just like you. But there’s a problem that only you can solve! Ready to help?” 

That’s it. Not too scary, right? And always be sure to review your scripts. Try reading them aloud and asking yourself:

  • Is this fun and easy to read?
  • Are the words simple and uncomplicated?
  • Does it feel like I’m talking to a friend?
  • Do I feel invited to learn more?

If you can answer yes to the above, then you’ll keep the angry townspeople at bay, leaving their torches and pitchforks behind.

Want to share this post? Here are some ready made tweets:

Click to Tweet: Are you scaring your learners away? Learn 4 ways to bring life to your boring #elearning. http://hubs.ly/y0fVFx0 #halloween

Click to Tweet: 4 ways to engage your learners by writing better e-learning course scripts! http://hubs.ly/y0fVFx0 #elearningcourses

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