A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action

In an earlier insight, we talked about the value of dialogue, and how it can give your e-learning a natural flow and authenticity. A client recently talked to us at Kineo about how some of their in-house programs were suffering from too much dialogue, with the result that the learning points were getting lost. So as a companion piece to an earlier insight, here are a few words of caution about dialogue in e-learning.

“If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
T.S. Eliot (probably)

  • It’s difficult: Professional screenwriters work extremely hard to make their characters sound authentic. Learners are exposed through TV, books and movies to mountains of dialogue. Everyone has a good ear for what is good dialogue and what isn’t. Getting it to sound right is a time-consuming task. Do you have the time for what’s essentially a professional writer's task? Is there an easier way to convey the key points to drive your storyline forward?
  • It expands scope: Once you start your characters having conversations, it’s hard to stop them. You’ll find you think you need them to say more, explain more, and build on earlier points. It’s not long before you’ve got characters who are literally out of control, adding to scope and screen count with every explanation.
  • It can be inefficient: In real life, dialogue is often quite meandering. It includes extraneous information about the weather, what people did on the weekend, etc. It may add to the realism but not add to the learning – and that’s a problem. That’s potentially distracting for the learner who needs to sift through dialogue, looking for key information that’s not there. Every word should fight for its right to be in the learning. Long discussions between characters usually don’t belong in short, focused learning unless they’re addressing key learning objectives.
  • It has overhead: Creating dialogue means finding images of your characters, potentially recording and editing audio, and finding a cast of actors or in-house talent. This all adds to the time and cost, so you need to be sure the dialogue is required in the first place.

So when do you actually need dialogue in e-learning?

The simple answer is: when the learning objectives warrant it.

If you’re dealing with a subject where hearing, interpreting, and responding to the actual words that characters say is absolutely core, then dialogue should be part of your learning approach. What are those situations? They include:

  • Coaching
  • Interviewing
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution
  • Client handling
  • Sales

But for the most part, they don’t include process-driven learning, or technical learning. These subjects will usually work just as well, and often better, with minimal or no dialogue in your e-learning.

If you’re going to use dialogue – use it sparsely, for example, as a manager or colleague who sets the learner tasks and bridges the next step in the storyline.

When creating your e-learning, think realistic – not real. You don’t have to represent all of the characters and the detail – just enough detail to enable the learner to make decisions and learn from the consequences. One of the key mistakes in creating learning is teaching the irrelevant. Make sure the dialogue – if you’re using it – is relevant and moves your storyline along efficiently.

Instead of dialogue, think vignette

One of the more powerful things you can do in learning design is to include the voice of an expert. Here’s one place where dialogue does work, because it’s the real words of an expert sharing their experience. Expert stories or vignettes are a great way to shorthand experience and add authenticity to e-learning. Consider putting effort into gathering stories from experts, and using their real voices and experiences rather than using artificial dialogue to make the point.

See all of our top elearning tips.