Is Your eLearning Content Written for Humans?

June 18, 2014 | Brendan Cournoyer
Is Your eLearning Content Written for Humans?

The first and foremost rule for better eLearning is better writing.”

That’s what Cammy Bean writes in a recent post for ASTD.org, 6 Tips for Writing Better eLearning Scripts. Cammy is the author of the book The Accidental Instructional Designer (the post is actually an excerpt), and it’s pretty tough to argue with her assessment here.

With all the time we spend talking about things like on-demand training videos, interactivity and gamification, it can be easy to forget that great learning content usually begins with simple written words. Whether they’re presented on the screen or spoken by a narrator, they have to be good ones that present the information in an effective way.

Related Article: How to Make Training for Compliance Compelling

“Good writing is the single biggest factor that can make the difference between an eLearning program that bores people to death and one that gets them to pay attention,” Cammy explains.

The article is a great read that goes into quite a bit of detail about how learning professionals and instructional designers can become better writers, but one point in particular jumped out at me: Make it human.

Dry, straightforward technical descriptions with no frills might contain all the necessary facts, but they’re also likely bore your audience and cause their minds to wander. Not very effective.

The idea is that to really connect with learners, you have to remember that they are actual people, and speak to them as such. Or as Cammy puts it, eLearning should be a conversation between “real people, not robots.”

It’s important to speak directly to the learner. Great eLearning content should create a personal experience that feels like it was designed just for them, rather than a collection of generic bullet points that could’ve been written for anyone.

Cammy’s post provides the following (excellent) example:

Instead of this: “In order to effectively manage employee performance, managers need to successfully navigate difficult conversations with their employees. In this e-learning program, you will learn three techniques you can apply to employee conversations...”

Try this: “Have you ever had a difficult conversation with one of your employees? Where did you struggle and why? In this short program, we're going to explore three things you can do to make those conversations less difficult and more productive. Sound good?”

I especially like this example because the concept of “writing for humans” is often lost throughout all forms of business communication; the lesson here certainly isn’t limited to eLearning.

From a marketing perspective, it reminds me of one of the first rules of search engine optimization (SEO): Write for people, not search engines. The point here is that it’s a bad idea to only focus your web content on the things (you think) search engines like in an attempt to get a high ranking (i.e. keywords, keywords, keywords!). The most important thing to remember is that your pages should provide value to the actual people that find them, not the search spiders that crawl them.

Getting back to eLearning though, there are lots of resources out there that tout the importance of personalizing your content, and almost all of them begin with the words you write or speak. For example, Christie Wroten writes for eLearning Industry that in most cases a conversational tone can make all the difference:

“All you need to do is add a few first and second person pronouns, like I, we, me and you. In addition, see how you can make commands sound friendlier. For example, instead of saying ‘Click the Next button, you could say ‘Let’s click the Next button.’ Always choose simple and clear words instead of unnecessarily long, confusing ones. Think about how you’d speak naturally, and use that as a guide.”

As you can see, there are lots of simply ways to make your eLearning content more human. This is especially important when it comes to information that is typically less engaging (compliance training, anyone?) or relatively technical. So the next time you’re writing scripts for an eLearning resource, don’t forget to remind yourself who you’re talking to.

For more tips and ideas, check out Cammy’s full article at ASTD.org.

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