Humour and Elearning

It’s long been known in the advertising world that humor can sell products. You can probably name a few of your favourite ads, without too much trouble,  that drive home their message using an absurd scenario.

For example, a well known global ice cream brand created a situation where a young Australian couple was having  a mad pashing session on the beach under a pier.  The lad rushes up to a vending machine to buy some protection and has to choose between the ice cream and a condom. Guess what he chooses?

Now, we are not suggesting that this is the kind of humor to insert in an elearning scenario on sex education, but it does illustrate that humour can help you remember a brand of ice cream.

So does humour fit into elearning? Yes, quite well, thank you. But there are few things you need to keep in mind when getting creating humorous lessons.

First, make sure your humour translates. For example, let’s say you are designing an online weight loss course where you are offering your subscribers ten exercises to start on the road to slimming down.  You might think it would be hilarious to show an overweight person not being able to fit through a door and then  boarding an airplane, where  two seats are necessary.  Funny?  Probably not to someone who is trying to lose weight.

Second, make sure the subject matter isn’t run over by your humour. Often times we can forget the point of the humorous situation.  For the sake of argument, let’s say you are trying to teach engineering students the intricacies of fluid dynamics in hydrostatic transmissions.  You want to create a video so you show a chimp with a hammer banging on a transmission housing with a voice over that says, “Confused by fluid dynamics?  Not everyone gets it.”  Cut to a technician in a white lab coat.  The implication is that if you don’t understand the complexity of the component….well.  You get the idea.

Third, your humour can highlight the subject matter from the real world of mistakes and mishaps.  Let’s say you are teaching your call centre phone staff how to handle difficult customers.    You can present the audio of a real call, not identifying the employee of course, that demonstrates the humorous consequences of trying to relate to the angry customer to defuse the tension.  This might involve turning the conversation to an innocuous topic like the weather.  “So it really must be hot in Bergen this time of year,” would probably sound silly if delivered to a Norwegian customer in winter.   Point made.  Or if your call centre customer is in New Zealand, and you start talking about the All Blacks getting hammered in a rugby match.  Lesson: How to p_ss off your customer in a hurry.

Fourth, keep the humour on the positive side of the equation. Some humour, quite frankly, can be pretty negative.  Generally speaking, you can intro a topic with a humorous situation or a joke before you get into the meat of the matter.  This is done all the time by experienced presenters who can turn a potentially embarrassing situation into one that defuses tensions without insulting their audience.

For example, if people are talking during a presentation, the speaker might say, “It’s nice to know you’ve broken down into discussion groups already and are ahead of the curve.”

Or if the presenter botches instructions, the tag line might be: “I was just testing to see if  you understand how to take instructions. Now I am going to give you the real ones.”

Or if the lights go out, the quip is: “Why do I get the feeling that when the lights come back on, I’ll be alone.”

Or if a sentence is mangled: “Later on I’ll provide a printed translation of that sentence.”

Or here is one for wrong answers for online assessments: “Right answer, wrong question!”

Did you hear the one about the…..