Guy 1: ‘I’m loving this chat, we’re really getting into it!’ … Guy 2: ‘hmmm, I wonder what I should have for lunch?’
With a title like ‘Engage me or enrage me’, no, this post is not about frustrated long-term girlfriends or boyfriends. The title’s a favourite phrase of mine when defining what I see as effective instructional design – particularly instructional design for online learning products.
Engaging with an audience is key to all forms of communication. For a face-to-face facilitator, it may be hitting the right tone and being able to think fast on their feet to capitalise on learning opportunities, questions or unexpected turns in the lesson i.e. walking into a lesson about fractions and it turns out the class doesn’t know what division is. For eLearning, we generally can’t control engagement levels through quick thinking or tailoring our lessons to the specific audience on the day. eLearning (in a traditional sense) is mostly a product that we design and develop in isolation from the end user, who then experiences the lesson in isolation; they have a one way dialogue with the eLearning product.
In order to engage (and not enrage) our audience, we have to write for our audience. This may seem obvious, but when focussed on throughout the design and development phases, writing for our audience dramatically increases their engagement and the effectiveness of training – as does a facilitator who engages with their audience and tailors their lessons on the fly, based on their ‘reading’ of an audience i.e. they choose to change the lesson to focus on division.
Writing for our audience begins at the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) or PNA (swap training for Performance). As a part of this analysis, it’s critical to not just analyse the performance gap and define objectives, but to also stereotype the audience wherever possible… yes, stereotype them, pigeon hole them, categorise and standardise them! … all for the greater good of course. If you can find the ’80 percenters’ on the audience prior to writing, it can help you immensely when communicating the training through your eLearning product. Some of the questions I would always ask are: What’s the general age group? What’s their experience in education/training/online training? What’s their cultural background – diverse or similar? Do they have similar work histories/experiences? Is their assumed knowledge they share? We should dig as deep as we can about our audience, as from the answers we uncover, we can make more effective choices in the style, tone, examples and learning hooks we choose to use in our writing.
Writing style is not the ‘be all and end all’ to engaging with an audience, but I would argue that instructional designers will create greater engagement in their courses if they focus more on writing for their audience, than on a design’s fancy bells and whistles or ‘overly interactive’ content. The right choice of interactions, levels of interactivity and other course features will be made if we ensure we are in fact writing for the right audience.
For more eLearning, visit www.learninghook.com.au