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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"Hey ya'll": Informal Language is the way to go in E-Learning

There is research evidence to indicate that informal language in an e-learning module is more effective than formal language.

In Ruth Clark's book "e-Learning and the Science of Instruction" she discussed a study by Moreno and Mayer, 2000 that compared a formally worded course with one that was more informally worded. In the study students who learned with text that was more informal and personal (for example, used the word "you" or "I") produced 20% to 46% more solutions to a transfer problem (similar problem as presented in the instruction) than the group who only had formal language in their module. So when learners received instruction informally, they performed better later on.

Additionally, research shows that people work harder to understand material when they feel they are in a conversation with a partner rather than simply receiving information (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, Kucan, and Worthy, 1996) Therefore, using a conversational style in an elearning module conveys to the learners the idea that they should work hard to understand what their conversational partner (in this case the computer or narrator) is saying to them.

In short, according to Ruth Clark's book and in my experience, expressing information in a conversational style can be a way to prime appropriate mental processing for a learner.

So feel free to present content in conversational language using "you," "your," "I," "our," and "we."

*NOTE: Here is a link to an article about this called Writing for the Reader.

Also check out Cathy Moore's take on the subject Why You Do Not Want to Sound Like a Robot.


Beck, I., McKeown, M.G., Sandora, C., Kucan, L., and worthy, J. (1996) Questioning the author: A year long classroom implementation to engage students in text. Elementary School Journal, 96, 385-414.

Ruth Clark's book:

Moreno, R., and Mayer, R.E. (2000). Engaging Students in Active Learning: The Case for Personalized Multimedia Messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 724-733.

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Tim said...

This is great Karl. What do you look for when reviewing course content with a view to 'informalizing' it?

One thing I look for is opportunities to use contractions - e.g. 'you'll need' and 'we don't' instead of the more formal 'you will need' and 'we do not'.

Do you have any other 'writing tricks' or rules of thumb that help to informalize a piece of text?

Karl Kapp said...

What I try to do is have the written narrative talk to the learner. So, I'll look for impersonal statements like "The employee should always.." and replace with "You should always try to remember to..." or if I see "The policy on harassment clearly states.." I'll change to "Our company harassment policy indicates that..." I try to create a language that is a conversation between the computer and the learner. Contractions are a big part of creating the context of a conversation. As are "you", "I", "us" and other words that are less formal than "The company". Also look for chances to use active voice instead of passive voice when writing.