Dish out the gossip

Did you see the e-learning that that team created? You know, the one that was really boring and no one could remember a thing about? Remember how every screen was packed with information and endless text bullets? And how the learners were completely bored but had to sit through it because it was compliance training?

Did that pique your curiosity a bit? Do you want to dive in a little deeper with us? Maybe even – gasp! – gossip about that whole experience? Well then. Let’s grab a cup of coffee, pull up close to the table and gab about gossip…

We’ve talked before about using stories to make e-learning better;  now science has shown that we do indeed sit up and pay more attention when we hear gossip about someone.

A study at Northeastern University in Boston found that participants focused more on images of people about whom they’d heard a negative or emotional story – and that this is an unconscious connection people make. 'A gossip-schooled eye for bad eggs provides social protection, the researchers propose, by extending opportunities to scrutinize potential liars and cheats.'

So how can that inform your e-learning content and design? Well, we think techniques that create stronger emotional connections between the learner and the content make for a more memorable experience – and thus more effective knowledge transfer.

In a demo we created for a financial institution, the objective of the program was to open employee's eyes about the company’s vacation policy, which required that all employees take two consecutive weeks of leave a year.  The real reason this mattered: when on vacation, brokers need to leave their books with other brokers, and in this way potential fraud is discovered.

Now, rather than just present the policy we took the gossip path. We told tales about a couple of people!


It’s a more emotional experience, that’s for sure.  And the images of the two individuals serve as a memorable hook back into the content.  Weeks later, we just need to remember their faces for the rest of the content to come tumbling back.

In this case, these gossipy stories were non-fiction.  With a little digging with your subject matter expert (SME) team, you may be able to come up with your own organisation’s True Tales of Intrigue.  If not, feel free to take the fictional route. Make up a plausible story of someone who bent the rules and what happened.  Showing the consequences of bad actions can serve as a memorable warning to your learners.

Here’s another example of a gossipy lead in: an overheard conversation in a wine bar, does it get any more tabloid…


We then pull back to see the bigger picture:

Disaster ensues, of course…Nothing good ever happened in a wine bar.

So. What about you? How do you think you can include a more gossipy-tone in your next course? Where can you tell a story on someone that will stick? We’ll be listening….