Where's the Humanity?

At its core, e-learning is really about helping people. Through the countless e-learning programs created every year, e-learning practitioners help people to gain new insight and understanding, do their jobs better, advance their careers, nurture the plant, and take care of their families.

Unfortunately, a lot of e-learning falls short of the helping people mark. Instead, it locks people into a boring procession of pages, the only salvation for which is the blinking next button. The zombies take over in the design. And learners emerge from the far end feeling like the living dead.

Here are three simple ways you can stop the horror and put the humanity back into your e-learning programs.

1. Start with the learner, not the content

Oh, the number of e-learning project kick-off meetings that have begun with the ceremonial passing of the stack of binders! Stop the madness, please!

Instead, start with an understanding of the learner. What is their starting point? Where do they need to go? What do you want them to be able to do at the end of the program?

If what you really need them to walk away with is an understanding – that there’s a process in place and that they should call the Process Department with questions – well, that’s a really different e-learning program than one that walks them line by line through the 30-step process.

Get out to see those learners as much as your project will allow. On a recent project for M&S Cafés in the UK, we spent the first part of the project not studying procedure manuals, but in the cafés, observing, listening, and seeing what it was like to do the job. Once you’ve looked the learner in the eye, you can’t forget that you’re designing for them.

2. Get emotional

Pull at heartstrings, invoke curiosity, and connect with learners at a visceral level. You’ve been to the movies, right? What works there is what works in e-learning. Emotions make us human – and they make your content more memorable. Inject some humanity with real stories and examples. Don’t be afraid to take risks – better to be pulled back, than never to push at all. I think Jimi Hendrix said that. Or would have said it, if he had remembered.

3. Watch your tone

The people out there working through your programs? They’re not robots. So stop writing like one.

Pop Quiz: Which of the following sounds more like something a robot might say?

A.      Negotiating effectively is an important skill that we all use on a daily basis.

B.      When was the last time you negotiated something? Maybe it was more recently than you think…

Keep your writing light and conversational. Be direct and engaging. Write as if you’re having a conversation with someone who’s every bit as intelligent and busy as you are. When you talk to the learner, adult to adult they just might listen.

So, there you have it. Three quick tips for putting the humanity back into e-learning. Remember, it’s always about the people, people!