Developing a Learning Culture

Lighten Up! How to Deal with Serious Subject Matter

Like a knock-knock joke at a funeral, sometimes eLearning methods can be downright inappropriate for certain topics. When discussing serious matters like sexual harassment or legal topics, it’s best to stay away from anything that could portray a loose attitude to the rules. But just because the subject matter requires a certain amount of decorum doesn’t mean you have to bore your learner into submission. Ignite engagement by using respectful, yet interesting ways to get learners to think, reflect and leave the experience with better understanding.

Gray Areas

You might be tempted to dress up a serious topic in a fun way, but tread lightly: The most serious topics often involve a lot of gray area that needs to be crystal clear for the training to be considered a success. Take sexual harassment training, for example. If your module cracks jokes, uses sarcasm or even incorporates games, that gray area addressing what’s OK and what isn’t suddenly becomes even murkier.

You never want to sacrifice clarity for humor when dealing with serious topics. Sure, a funny jibe might make learners sit up and take notice, but it might also set a mood inconsistent with the seriousness of the subject matter. Instead, try engaging in thoughtful ways that encourage learners to consider what they’re learning on a contextual plane.

Contextual Clues 

Putting your learners into a “What would you do?” situation may be one of the most engaging ways to practice and evaluate. Whether learners read through case studies and choose from appropriate courses of action, or even watch a video and then choose how to respond to certain behaviors, getting to practice their new knowledge in a low-stress setting can engage while still offering strict clarity. Learners can predict outcomes and consequences from a safe space.

When you rely on contextual learning to engage learners when dealing with serious topics, you also have the unique opportunity for real-time evaluation. You could discuss the right course of action as a group, or offer a scoring system for questions answered throughout the module. This instant feedback means you’re better able to nip misunderstanding in the bud for near-perfect understanding of often complicated and murky topics like compliance, legal issues and harassment training.

Game On?

If you’re still wishing for a traditionally “fun” element to a module, remember that any games or jokes should be – first and foremost – tasteful and appropriate. But any games you do incorporate should be strictly an accessory and never the main feature of a module. Instead, a “WWYD” game or quiz works well to test knowledge, so ditch the cheesy graphics and stick to a more serious tone.

Remember that your eLearning programs don’t necessarily need to be funny in order to be engaging. You want learners who are thoughtful, prepped and prepared; not learners who are laughing (and confused). Erring on the side of caution and clarity can help learners get exactly what they need from the training.