Humor in eLearning

Here again, helping you navigate the turbulent waters in the sea of eLearning, is another post in the series on What eLearning Clients Get Wrong. I’d like to touch on a topic that tends to get overlooked on most checklists. Humor  can be a very valuable tool in making your learning even more effective.

Tip #3: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Humor

“A business owner, a salesman, and a game designer walk into a bar…”

A lot of clients shy away from humor, and in their defense, there are a lot of reasons why they might. It can come off as hokey; it can be subjective and fall flat, and if done carelessly, it can even offend an audience. Is it even worth the risk? The truth is, yes. It can be. Let’s take a look at why humor might be worth it:

•Comedy is engaging, and learners are going to be attracted to engaging material. Even if you can’t get your audience to laugh out loud, just the attempt at humor alone can make a student relax, which will cause them to be more open and receptive to the material.

•A sense of humor can make you seem more relatable. Very few learners will enjoy being lectured at by an authoritative professor type, especially if it’s a subject they might not be particularly interested in in the first place. If you know your audience, some well-crafted quips will help form a bond with your learners right off the bat. Now, instead of talking to a robot, they’re learning with a peer that can joke with them on their level and keep them engaged when they aren’t otherwise feeling motivated.

•Humor enhances memory. Want your learners to actually retain your information? In a study conducted by Valparaiso University, students recalled as much as 50% more material when it was presented to them with humor.


Case Study of the Benefits to Using Humor

Digitec designed a learning game for new employees at a large entertainment company. We knew that the target audience would be younger, excited about joining the organization, and would enjoy playing games.

The web-based game involved players flying through a 3-D galaxy, exploring content on various themed planets. The players then needed to recall the information they’d discovered to play mini-games, earn points on a leaderboard and capture a key to unlock a content area.

To create more fun, we created an evil villain character that the players chase through the galaxy. For humor, whenever the player lost a mini-game, we created a library of random audio responses, including evil laughs, etc. So when the player won… or lost, they could smile at the reaction, and enjoy the experience even more.

Why the Project Worked

What worked here was that the humor was universal. We needed to localize the game for a Chinese market. Despite the cultural differences, which can certainly cause humor to backfire, the Chinese players enjoyed the fun of the feedback just as much.

I think another reason this worked was because of the detail behind the design. As the renowned architect Mies van der Rohe once said: “God is in the details.” Here, the player was able to expose a “world” behind the experience – a world designed to make them smile.


How to Reduce Risk

Humor in eLearningThere are many ways that humor can negatively affect the experience, though. Here are a few rules of thumb to make sure humor is right for your project:

•Make Sure it’s Not Inappropriate. Humor is very culturally specific, and very subjective. If the humor could be offensive, avoid it. Also, when dealing with issues surrounding safety or professionalism, humor can be seen as being too light-hearted about the subject matter.

•Make Sure it’s Repeatable. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same joke twice. If learners will need to retake the content or see the same “gag” over and over again, think of an alternative.

•Keep Your Humor On-Topic. The research is clear that using a couple jokes can make all the difference, but all bets are off when the comedy and your topic just don’t relate. Chances are, it’ll just come off as forced and inappropriate. Best case scenario? They’ll remember the laugh, but not the lesson.

•KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. This is one of the most defining factors on whether or not eLearning humor is successful. Utilizing humor is very effective, but may not be right for every project. For instance, while learners who might be less than motivated may need humor to stay engaged, be aware that very dedicated learners might not need humor, or might even find it pandering. Make sure you understand your company culture.


Do you use humor in your eLearning? Please share what works and what doesn’t.

If you’d like to learn about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

Ready to find out what Digitec can do for you?

contact us