The way in which an eLearning course is written (including the script for the narration) can sometimes be the source of debate between developers and SME’s/clients. Opinions are often divided when asked if it is better to write in a formal rather than conversational style. But what does the research say? What’s better for learning? In this post, we’ll look at the Personalisation Principle that includes the writing style used as well as the inclusion of on-screen coaches or ‘pedagogical agents’ who are there to guide people through an online course.
Formal or Conversational?
Does it really matter if a module is written using a formal or a conversational style? Let’s look at two examples from an eLearning module on calculating interest from Clark and Mayer (2002, p.161):
“Interest is compounded or added to the existing cash balance monthly. For disclosure on client statements, the annual percentage yield earned is calculated as follows…”
“Clients will often ask you to explain how the Annual Percentage Yield on their statement was calculated. This can be confusing, so let’s run through an example…”
Which do you prefer?
See how example 1 uses a passive voice which leads to a more formal tone while example 2 uses second person and informal language (“you”, “their” and “let’s”) which creates a conversational tone. It’s like someone is talking to you.
In studies by Mayer, Fennell, Farmer and Campbell using a multimedia lesson on how the human respiratory system works, the word ‘the’ was changed to ‘your’ in 12 places throughout the lesson. The idea was that “using the self as a reference point increases learner interest and encourages the learner to use available cognitive capacity for active cognitive processing of the incoming information”. Results found that learning was improved on subsequent transfer tests. In other studies, Moreno and Mayer, compared lessons that had audio narration written in a formal style with those where the audio spoken was more conversational. They also found learning was improved in those who took lessons where the narration used second person and informal language.
Characters in eLearning
The use of on-screen coaches or ‘pedagogical agents’ has also been examined to determine if they assist or hinder learning in multimedia presentations. Research (in Clark and Mayer, 2002) found that learning was improved in groups whose multimedia contained an agent over those whose did not. Interestingly, research into the use of agents in eLearning has also found:
- The appearance of the agent made little difference — a cartoon or human worked just as well.
- Learning was better when the agent’s words were presented in audio rather than in text and in a conversational style rather than in a formal style — congruent with the modality and personalisation principles.
- The agent did not even need to be visible on the screen — the voice alone was sufficient to promote better learning.
Using the Person’s Name
In an authoring tool like Articulate Storyline, you can capture a person’s name at the beginning of the course using a text variable and then reference that variable throughout the course. This can also help to personalise the course as their name will be used during the module and again it will be like the course is ‘talking’ to them.
If you’d like to know how to do this in your projects, here’s a short screencast I created that covers the basics:
Using a Text Variable to Capture a User’s Name
Link URL: https://youtu.be/7np40FDRyf0
What do you do to personalise your eLearning modules? Let us know in the comments area below.
Clark, R.C. and Mayer, R.E. (2002). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.
Mayer, R. E., Fennell, S., Farmer, L., & Campbell, C. (2004). A personalisation effect in multimedia learning: Students learn better when words are in a conversational style rather than a formal style. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(2), 389-395.
Matt has been working in the learning and development field for over 8 years and has experience as a classroom facilitator, workplace assessor and most recently as an instructional designer (for e-learning and classroom environments). Matt has a keen interest in a number of learning related areas including human cognitive architecture, motivation, performance support, informal learning and social media. He’s also completing a Master of Education in Educational Psychology at the University of NSW. http://learningsnippets.wordpress.com/