humour in elearning – a laughing matter?

My chosen topic to investigate, and produce a project around, is the use of humour in eLearning. I’ll talk more about my project ideas in future posts but you may be wondering why this topic has jumped out at me.

I am a desperate people pleaser. I am the person who wants to be liked by everyone. And from a young age I realised making people laugh and smile was a great way to do that AND made me feel great too. I appreciate this can also make me a tiresome pain!

I have even done some stints of comedy writing in the past and had my jokes and sketches performed on BBC Radio. I like humour. Who doesn’t? Well actually a few people but that’s another story…

I remember from my schooldays I relished lessons with a human touch, and that was more often than not in the form of humour or light heartedness. In further education, in my first Masters (Sociology), I still remember the lectures and writers that tickled my funny bones or at the least, included the foibles of the human condition with humour or warmth.

Fast forward and as a grown up with a proper job I find myself falling into the world of instructional design and online learning. Still I cling to the idea that to reach people, I will do better if, in the correct circumstances, I can do so with that trait we call humour.

And if you read and listen to guides and tips on creating eLearning there it is, the sentence that backs me up ‘make your eLearning fun by including some humour’. Like a personal add leading is ‘GSOH‘, it’s a given, a universal constant.

Case closed.

Except it isn’t. Rarely does anyone explain what humour is. There is no grand repository of failsafe content. Because humour is fallible, subjective, tricky. A wrong foot can take you to offensive to dangerous – which is fun to juggle with if you are Ricky Gervais but not so great if you are creating the new company eLearning on health and safety.

I saw some company training a few years ago where the creator included a meme from a US TV show (and massive disclaimer – this is NOT about shaming anyone or their content). I found it funny. I knew the show, I knew the context but then I sat back. Would everyone get this reference? Would the audience of a global and diverse company all get it? And if they didn’t get it, could it actually be offensive or off putting without context? I believe it could, especially in asynchronous eLearning where the user can mull over the imagery or text etc. As we work in an increasing global setting, and I myself work for a large global company, we also have to add in the cultural norms of humour.

Now does this sound like I am going to start a campaign to remove all humour from eLearning? I hope not! My hill is still very much humour is a wonderful pedagogical tool but like all tools we have to remember to use it appropriately, assess the situation, review it and know sometimes we are going to fall flat (but hopefully not flat into Human Resources office).

I want to consider the strengths an weaknesses, the practical steps we can take to reflect on our own use and challenge our own perceptions and use (or avoidance of use) of humour in our eLearning.

And finally, in my previous module (H819) I scored my highest assignment mark on an essay in which I included a cat meme. Yes, a cat meme. They’ve taken over the internet, they may as well takeover academia too!

2 Comments on “humour in elearning – a laughing matter?

    • Thanks Mc, I will definitely check that out. One other thing that often comes back to memory is Gerard Ratner doing his ill-fated joke and bringing down the whole company,

      In eLearning especially, as with items in print, there is a sense of that sense of permanency and ability to really dissect items that I think may make some people wary of humour. Hope to hear about a lot more of people’s experiences.

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