humour: the time it worked for me in learning #1

One aspect of using humour and light-heartedness in eLearning, especially in a global setting, is humour may not translate. Humour founded in idioms or cultural knowledge may fall flat on its face. Indeed, even within a culture or group, humour is very subjective. And let’s not even get into the matter of defining humour and its many forms.

For today’s blog lets just settle on a very broad definition of humour being something that amuse people, perhaps makes them laugh and/or relax.

I have one example of when humour worked for me when facilitating some live webinars way back in the day.

I was guiding candidates applying to work on web search relevance judging project. What’s that? Well that’s one thing I wanted to ensure they understood too as well as try and enthuse them to take part and feel engaged and relaxed. The cohort was international from many diverse, backgrounds.

The project, to explain it very simply, involved seeing real life search terms made in search engines and viewing pages that may be returned for that search. The project judges would label how satisfying the result was for the search. So you imagine it takes a lot of different skills to understand the user’s intent and what is a satisfying result. It can also be a tedious type of project but has the upside of seeing all human life. What people search for on the internet…well it knows no bounds.

What I wanted to do with the candidates was make them feel at ease with me, with the project, consider how you think about searches and putting yourself in someone else’s (search) shoes. In fact this last point is vital to such work. But I didn’t want to bore them to tears about how to imagine users form the offset or frighten them with the repetitive nature of the project. I decided to use a funny and real life example I had encountered years before on the project.

And here is the real world example I shared with them and asked to consider what the person was looking for.

The search was for ‘how to untangle armpit hair‘.

Through tens of webinars that was the example that always broke the ice (a major reason people cite for using humour in a learning environment). With candidates from all across the world, diverse groups of genders, ages and nationalities, that example always raised a smile and giggles, relaxed the mood but more importantly made them think about users, about the huge scope of the project (you never know what you’d see) and hopefully, as an aside, made them think it was an interesting project to do.

One Comment on “humour: the time it worked for me in learning #1

  1. You are very brave, I am not sure I would dare to break the ice with such a question!

    What is your project going to be? research on this? I am hoping you will say a curation project so I can I enjoy watching humour in e-learning.

    To add my further thoughts on this, I am always trying to make people laugh too (I don’t even notice I do it). I am very likely to do this in a live session, where I can “read the room” and it may be self-depricating humour (e.g. I put into my intro slide a picture of my 3 girls playing and then commented that I have no hobbies or spare time because I have these children… ). The 2 attendees laughed, I added it because I knew they were parents too, I removed it from my slide deck for my next session (I didn’t know anything about those attendees)…

    Sorry went on a ramble… I think what is important is knowing your audience (not literally, just knowing who they might be) is important for humour, and spontaneity. I am not sure how this could be replicated for asynch materials.

    What are your thoughts and plans?

    (I don’t think I can add a cat meme in the comment section)

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