I recently created a funny (I hope!) cartoon to motivate people to learn more, and it motivated me to learn more about how humor can improve learning.
If you don’t see the cartoon below, you can watch it here.
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The cartoon is a trailer more than a “teaching” tool, since it just touches on the main points. Its design comes straight from marketing: Remind them of the pain they’re feeling, tell them they can get the cure, and ask them to act. The same pattern would probably work in any training trailer to boost enrollments.
In a recent LinkedIn discussion about the cartoon, Megan Torrance reported that in one of her projects, elearning modules with a funny cartoon trailer had twice as many signups as modules without the trailer.
The same type of cartoon could be used when a client wants “awareness” but can’t identify any behaviors that actually require that awareness. When a “course” must be created regardless of its usefulness, a cartoon would at least be more fun than an information dump.
What research says about humor
I poked around Google Scholar and found studies that seem to agree that (relevant!) humor in teaching can increase retention, motivation, and comprehension.
The use of positive humor can also increase the likeability of the instructor. This could be especially helpful in corporate elearning, where the “presenter” is often faceless and personality-free.
The article “How Laughing Leads to Learning” offers a readable summary of some research and makes several points that are relevant to corporate training. Thanks, Matthias Herrmann, for pointing it out. My main takeaways from the article:
- Humor appears to reduce anxiety by decreasing the effects of stress hormones.
- It appears to improve motivation and recall.
- It should be appropriate to the audience and sprinkled here and there rather than applied with a firehose.
I’d add that humor is surprising, and surprises are memorable. As Julie Dirksen explains in her (funny!) book Design for How People Learn, “If something is exactly the way we thought it would be, there’s really no reason to allocate mental resources to reinforcing that thought or idea.”
Finally, humor often uses analogy, exaggeration, emotion, vivid imagery, and unique sounds, all of which probably make the content more memorable.
Design decisions for the cartoon
Narration: I could have uploaded narration to the tool I used, but I thought, why? What would it add? So I didn’t add it. Plus, I’m not a fan of narration, as I’ve probably made clear in this blog (like in this post).
Pacing: The quick pacing is more marketing style than training style. Even when it’s just offering the high points, training tends to be a lot slower because … why? I actually wish that elearning developers would speed up, which is another reason for my
burning hatred dislike of narration. It’s ironic that we easily digest quick messages from marketing but then design elearning that plods.
I made the cartoon with Powtoon, a web app. You edit and save your work online and export the files as MP4s. Although you can upload audio and visuals, all the content of my cartoon is provided by Powtoon.
- It’s intuitive — the timeline is simple; it’s easy to change entrances and exits.
- The stock characters and animations inspire you to use humor.
- There’s a decent supply of images within each “style” of images.
- It’s easy to preview and export your cartoon.
- Non-artists like me can easily create cartoons.
- You can’t change music files in the middle of a cartoon or fade the audio. I had to make two cartoons and join them in iMovie, where I also edited the audio.
- The shortest interval on the timeline is one second.
- The range of character styles is limited but will likely grow.
- Other users report that it’s hard to sync narration. If I wanted to add narration to the cartoon (when pigs fly), I’d record it separately while watching the cartoon and then connect the cartoon and audio in a video editor.
- I noticed some visual artifacts when editing, and when I exported a cartoon, it often had a random audio glitch that re-exporting usually fixed.
More thoughts on humor
I think we have a bajillion opportunities to make things lighter and more memorable without offending someone somewhere, but all I hear when I mention humor is fear. I’ve got some tips for incorporating humor in this early blog post (along with the dramatic front page of the tabloid Elearning Informer).
What do you think? Is this kind of cartoon too risky? Why don’t we use humor more often?
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