An Englishman, an Irishman, and an instructional designer walk into a bar.
Okay, so that’s not actually a real joke. But it got your attention, didn’t it?
Incorporating humour into elearning is a hotly debated topic. On the one hand, it can be a great way to engage your audience and create interesting learning that people remember. On the other hand, humour is subjective, can be incredibly divisive, and, well, we’re writing storyboards about compliance training here, not a script for a new Hollywood romcom.
While it’s true that there’s a time and a place for humour in elearning, when used correctly it really can help to bring some of those, er, less thrilling subjects to life. If you’re interested in adding humour to your elearning but you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here at Popcorn we love nothing more than adding a funny anecdote to a script when appropriate, and we’ll be sharing the different ways we do so in an upcoming post. For now though, let’s start by looking at some of the benefits of incorporating humour into elearning.
- It encourages learners to pay attention
With the average person encountering between 6-10,000 adverts a day, it’s hardly surprising that many of us struggle with short attention spans. When you’re writing an elearning course, you’re taking on the challenge of not only grabbing your audience’s attention in the first place, but also holding it long enough for them to complete the course. According to research by Daniel Berlyne, a British psychologist, humour can surprise and disrupt expectations, resulting in psychological arousal. This can turn an inattentive learner, whose eyes are slightly glazed over, into a moderately attentive active listener. By kicking things off with a funny story or reference in your opening animation, for example, you’re sending a clear message to your learners. This isn’t your average health and safety refresher course – pay attention!
- It creates a positive learning environment
Humour can activate the brain’s emotional reward centre, creating a rush of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. It releases a positive response and creates a more pleasant and enjoyable learning environment. This relaxes learners and helps to minimise any anxiety or apprehension they may have about a subject. According to Professor John A. Banas from The University of Texas, the use of positive, non-aggressive humour has been associated with a more interesting and relaxed learning environment, higher instructor evaluations, greater perceived motivation to learn, and enjoyment of the course.
- It brings characters and storylines to life and makes elearning relatable
Knock knock. Who’s there? Me, using humour as a defence mechanism. Humour is a part of life. Whether we’re laughing at a friend’s story or trying to make the best of an awkward situation, it’s all around us and we’re familiar with it. Using it in elearning helps to make the situations and characters you’re writing about more real. It creates authenticity and helps learners relate to the ideas and information you’re sharing. Including a light-hearted ‘insider’ joke about your audience’s industry will bring your characters to life and make your learners feel understood. And deep down, isn’t that really what we all want?
- It helps to simplify the complex and make learning more accessible
Humour can be a great way of simplifying a complex subject. While you might be writing a course about a complicated topic, it doesn’t need to be difficult to understand. Using humour to deliver the information in a way that your audience will easily comprehend will ensure your elearning is accessible for everyone.
- It enhances recall and strengthens memories
If I ask you to share a memory with me, there’s a good chance you’ll share a funny one. Scientists have discovered that there are physiological changes in our brains that make us better able to remember funny moments over sad or angry ones. In a study by American psychologist Randy Garner, PhD, students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when it was interjected with jokes about relevant topics. This means that including humour in elearning is likely to result in learners being able to actually remember details about the course, rather than just working through it and moving on.
It’s clear that incorporating humour into elearning can result in a more engaging, memorable course for your learners. However, as with so many things there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. (Oh no there isn’t! Oh yes there is! Etc.) Tune in to the second part of this blog series to find out how to add humour to your next elearning course. Alternatively, drop us a line at [email protected] and we’ll arrange a chat about our experience and expertise in this area.