Everyone's talking about engagement – but within 5 minutes it’s quickly apparent that engagement means different things to different people.
eLearning engagement used to be limited to movement on the screen such as image animation, “click the button for more information” interactions, and matching or sorting content exercises. Over time, as both costs and time to develop decreased with better tools, eLearning engagement evolved to include scenario-based interactions, video demonstrations, and occasionally, full-blown simulations. But somehow, instructional designers have been slow to universally leverage the simple and inexpensive options associated with using active voice – it just doesn’t sound “professional” enough!
Traditional business communications experts still advocate for a professional tone; however, active voice doesn’t have to sound unprofessional.
Here’s an example of passive voice:
“The theme that was most dealt with by the 16th Century poets was…”
This could easily be rewritten in active voice as:
“The 16th Century poets most often dealt with the theme of…”
This second sentence is shorter, to the point, and the reader is less likely to switch off half-way through. It is just as “formal” and correct as the first one but makes for a better piece of writing by being snappier.
Although traditional Instructional Design programs still lean toward technical writing norms, we have found that you need to update your content voice to engage learners more. The time for drab, third person writing in your eLearning courses is gone. Long gone! One of our ID coaching clients described it this way…
Even when development time is at a premium, I can quickly apply simple, yet effective learning principles, such as writing in an active voice to improve my course. I have seen how using an active voice can almost effortlessly shift disembodied content into relevant, personalized material. It can generate a form of ownership and help drive accountability.
An example of this came up when I was developing training for a new procedure. The business wanted this statement:
“Loan Officers will be accountable for executing the new procedural steps.”
but I revised using active voice to…
“You will be held accountable for following the new procedure.”
The message is the same, but active voice invokes accountability on a personal level.
~ Sydney K. in Texas
At BCR, we advocate three easy ways to increase engagement in your next eLearning using active voice.
Use active narrative voice: Talk to the learner using “you” and “your” as much as possible. It grabs their attention and forces you, the instructional designer, to keep the content relevant. You stop telling them about the content and you start showing them how they will use it.
“As an experienced mortgage processor, XYZ should be review for you.”
“You used to do X. Now that compliance regulations have changed, you will need to do Y instead, to pass your weekly inspection.”
Use direct instructions to prompt action now. Call out the action in some way. For example, we used orange italics to make it stand out from regular content.
Click the button below to review XYZ procedure. Pay special attention to ABC.
Study the tabs below to discover the words and phrases that will help you better communicate your expertise to your client.
Use examples that connect with people and things the learner cares about. You can take it up a notch and combine active voice with meaningful examples in a click-to-reveal type of interaction.
As a trusted advisor, how should you discuss the pros and cons of locking in an interest rate with your client? Formulate your response then click continue to see an ideal response.
How will you customize your updates based on what you know about your client’s previous experience? Review the following table to see how different novice and experienced home buyer needs can be. (Follow-up with application knowledge check question or two.)
You can easily update your content voice in your next eLearning by following these three ways to use active voice. To find out more about our instructional design workshops where you can learn more great tips and tricks like this, click here.