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    7 Journalism Principles that Should Guide Your eLearning Courses

    We all remember a piece of news that moved us to tears.

    We remember news pieces that roused us to action.

    Great stories not only inform and educate; they also compel us to tweak attitudes, modify behavior, and correct responses. Great stories inspire us to become our best selves.

    Wouldn’t you want your eLearning courses to create lasting impact? Don’t you want your courses to touch learners and make a difference in their lives? I bet you do! 

    There's a lot eLearning professionals can learn from journalists. Apply these seven basic journalism principles and notice how you will improve your courses. 

    1) Humanize the content.

    We all love it when we can relate to a story; a human face behind the story makes it easier for us to connect with the facts, figures, and events. The human element cuts across geographical barriers, racial identities, and socio-economic conditions and touches all.

    Below are some tips on how you can “humanize” your course content to make it more relatable and impactful:

    • Find the “human angle” of your content. Discover and “feel” the emotions that run through the content. When you weave these feelings into your writing, you resonate with your audience. Providing this human perspective is the glue that keeps your course together and the magnet that draws in and compels the audience to sit through it. It creates something real out of dull, drab content.
    • Ask clients or SME's to provide testimonials and endorsements from where you can extract material for your story. You can also ask them to provide case studies.
    • Speak the lingo of your audience. Don’t stuff your content with too many jargons; these make you sound aloof and distant and make your content too cliché. Speak to your learners as you would to a friend. Write in a conversational tone, so you sound approachable. But here’s a word of caution: choose how much informal you would like to be depending on the content and your type of audience.
    • Place your audience at the center of the course. Whatever be the learning goals, ensure that you always let learners know how they will benefit by taking your course. It is always about THEM.
    • Spice up things with videos. An endless array of screens filled with nothing more than chunks of text and loads of images soon turn tedious. Videos add a human element to your course. For instance, a video tutorial makes sound instructional sense when you have to teach processes with a series of steps. However, you don’t have to include a video in every screen (that would be an overkill); go by what seems relevant.

    Read: A Template to Carry Out an eLearning Audience Analysis

    2) Start with a bang. Include a “lede.”

    If you can’t grab the attention of your audience right at the start of the course, you lose them then and there. In an era of distractions and millions of ways in which one can obtain information, your audience wants to know right away WHY they will sit through your course.

    You need a hook or a "lede", to use the journalist’s lingo, to create a compelling case for your course in the very first slide. Here are some tips on how to craft this lede:

    • Steer clear of the ordinary and the wishy-washy. Shock the wits out of your learners. Scare them. Make them go aww. Give them hope. Trigger a fond memory and bring out a smile. But provoke an emotion :) 
    • Ensure that the lede contains the 5Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and 1H (how). Stating the what’s-in-it-for-me information right at the beginning enhances relevance.
    • Ensure that the 5Ws and 1H information features as close to the beginning of the course as possible.
    • Create a pithy lede. Don’t beat around the bush; get to the crux of the matter right away.
    • Ask questions and make learners think. When you pose a question, you jolt learners into mental action and prompt reflection. Questions can also whet curiosity; learners want to know the answer and can’t wait to begin the course.
    • Share a story and create context. Stories set the context, establish relevance, and stir up emotions in learners. A story at the beginning of the course gives you the opportunity to present the key lessons and takeaways to the learners in an engaging format.
    • Throw in some numbers to add credibility. Numbers don’t lie. You can start your course by presenting a slew of statistics. Numbers help confirm your claims and establish the relevance of the course. Numbers can also challenge the learners’ existing views or surprise or shock them, so they eagerly click through your course to know more.

    3) Enforce clarity and purpose with headers.

    A header should top every slide to give learners an idea of what follows. Headers can be used to grab learner attention as well and make them excited about what’s coming next.

    Here is the golden rule of creating attention-grabbing and effective headers:

    • Keep them short and crisp.
    • Delve into the learner’s mind to find out what grips his/her attention. Is it the prospect of finding a solution to a long-standing problem that will make him continue reading? Or is he excited to learn something new? Use words and phrases accordingly. 
    • Depending on their quest, some learners may be enticed by a “how-to” header while others will dive right into a course if the header promises that it will help them “discover the truth.”

    4) Banish clutter and cut to the chase. 

    Journalists have a special skill. They can craft short and succinct stories. They are economical with words and compared to others; journalists can express more in fewer words. Instructional designers too should learn and perfect this skill. 

    Brevity is a critical feature of effective communication in eLearning too. It is weeding out the inessentials and shining the spotlight on the crux of the matter. It helps the audience focus only what is the most important aspect of a topic and in turn, lets the communicator create the desired impact.

    Remember that Millennial learners are easily distracted and have short attention spans. They do not want to waste time going through text-heavy and irrelevant content. So make sure you educate the learner quickly. Please, don’t make learning a harrowing experience for them.

    We have listed below some tips to help you banish clutter with relevant, engaging content that turns heads and grab eyeballs:

    • Help learners reach their goals. Don’t create courses just because you have to or to use up the training funds. Respect your learners’ time and energies and create courses that add value to their lives. Evaluate your course by asking yourself these questions: Is it enjoyable? Does it solve a problem that’s plaguing the learners? Does it contain information that learners are unlikely to find elsewhere?
    • Curate content from diverse sources. You don’t have to create fresh content always to meet training goals. There are tons of informative resources out there on the web or even in your own company. Scout for information that is most relevant for your audience. Collate and organize the best content and create a helpful guide for your audience.
    • Speak with images. Images are also powerful instructional tools. They convey the meaning behind abstract concepts and bring out the relevance of stark numbers more effectively than words.
    • Make sure that every element in the course aligns with the learning outcomes. This prevents redundancy and irrelevance.
    • Organize and structure content into a cohesive whole to create maximum impact. Use the inverse pyramid method that journalists abide by. Include the most critical pieces of information right at the start of the course. This practice will additionally, establish relevance and compel your learners to stick around.
    • Do not try to fit your content within a certain number of slides. Instead, write out your course and then go over it (with a fine-toothed comb and a hawk’s eye) to toss out what does not align with the learning objectives. Read: How to Design eLearning That Meets Business Goals
    • Spread the training content over multiple mini courses if including all of it makes a single course lengthy.

    Here are some more tips on to help you master the art of creating short but effective eLearning courses

    5) Spell out abbreviations and acronyms, and avoid jargons. 

    Here is a journalistic rule that you must always follow: ALWAYS spell out abbreviations and acronyms, and avoid jargons.

    Your course might be taken by a diverse and heterogeneous audience with varied levels of expertise in the subject you are teaching. You don’t want to alienate the experts by sounding like you are talking down to them. You also don’t want to frustrate other learners by sounding aloof and not caring to explain the jargons to them. So strike a happy balance between the two approaches to making the learning enjoyable and educative for all learners.

    Here are some more pointers:

    • Explain or spell out jargons and abbreviations at least the first time you use them in a slide.
    • Consider linking out to a glossary or other resources, so learners can read up more on jargons if they want to.
    • You may have to use jargons to make dialogs within scenarios sound more realistic. In such cases, make sure that you weave a short explanation into the dialog, so learners know what you are referring to.

    6) Use the right tone, friendly but authoritative.

    The tone you use throughout the course determines to a large extent how readily your audience accepts the message and embraces it. Talk down to the learners, and they may feel offended. Adopt a more frivolous tone, and they will doubt your credibility.

    Here are some tips on choosing the right tone for your eLearning courses:

    • Adopt a friendly but authoritative tone.
    • Be casual to take the fear out of the learning process. For instance, you can begin sentences with and or but.
    • Use a conversational tone that sounds intimate and helps you establish a rapport with the learner.
    • Avoid a patronizing tone. So don’t use jargons if you can. Else explain them, if you have to use jargons.
    • Do not try to imitate anyone when you write for your audience. Be natural and use your own voice.

    Read: Strike the Right Tone for Maximum Impact in eLearning

    7) Mantain flow 

    Maintaining flow between different topics helps learners make sense of the learning matter. It is critical that you establish clear links between ideas, events, people, and places. One of the most important and often-used methods for establishing flow is to provide the context before you go on to state new information about a topic.
    For instance, before stating the benefits of a new model of washing machine, you must provide background information like what problems consumers are facing right now that the current crop of washing machines cannot resolve.

    You can learn a lot from how journalists craft stories. The journalistic practices listed above help you create tightly-woven, fluff-free courses that establish your authority and enable you to make a positive difference in your learners’ life.

    writing tips for elearning


    Karla Gutierrez
    Karla Gutierrez
    Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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