If you’re getting started on a new script for an eLearning course, you probably aren’t planning to create a “musical” experience. But maybe you should. A great song is relatable, the lyrics that get stuck in your head and you can recite them years later. Wouldn’t you like to write a script with that kind of impact?
In a recent article in T+D magazine, author Cammy Bean provides several tips on scriptwriting that really resonate with me. Here’s my take on the top 4 ways to make your eLearning scripts sing:
1. “Make it human” — Bean
According to Bean, the first tip to writing a great eLearning script is to write like a human. When we’re sitting down to write a script, how many of us have caught ourselves actually writing words like:
“Upon successful completion of this module, you will be able to identify when sexual harassment occurs in the office setting.”
Yuck. Now imagine it’s a year from now, 9:30 am, and tucked away in a cubicle somewhere, we meet Frank. He’s an over-worked, somewhat distracted, 20-something computer programmer. He’s just been told by his boss that he needs to take this required sexual harassment eLearning you wrote. And the second screen in Frank hears, “Upon successful completion…” Or, even better, he hears and sees this text onscreen! If you were Frank, how motivated would you be to click next to continue?
Okay, now back to your eLearning script. First, when you’re writing, remember “Frank” – the human not the “learner.” Frank will be taking this course in another year, so the writing needs to connect with him. Knowing how this content will affect him is important too. Instead, how about this objective screen:
“Have you ever listened in on an office conversation? Marc just said something really offensive to Ariana, and he didn’t even realize it! Awkward. In this short module, you’ll find out three ways to make sure this never happens to you.”
Did you see what I did there? Use a specific situation to make the topic concrete. And personalize the situation to make it relevant to the human being on the other end of the eLearning.
2. Lighten up
The next suggestion for writing better eLearning scripts is to avoid heavy language and an overly serious tone. Is sexual harassment serious? Of course. But notice how you can still reinforce the seriousness without the dense language. Keep it “short and snappy,” and relevant. If you re-read the first example, doesn’t it feel like you have to plow through it? Now read the revised example. Interestingly, the revision is twice as long. But it flows more “singingly,” because it’s direct, uses several short sentences instead of one long one, and it sounds like a conversation rather than a textbook.
Also, notice how the revised “objective” mentions the three ways to avoid this. Admit it. You want to know what those three ways are. Social media marketers will tell you that lists create some of the most engaging content on the internet. Still reading this post?
Consider lightening up your scripts using list organizers. Think of these as verses in a song. They provide symmetry and order which, like great art, we are naturally drawn to.
One note of caution for lightening your scripts. You’ll notice that my revision includes: “Awkward.” This might be okay depending on your audience, but if your eLearning will be translated or localized, these informal phrases can be misunderstood in other cultures. If you’ll need to internationalize, avoid them.
3. Edit, edit, edit.
Bean’s next tip is to edit your scripts down to the essentials. As Mark Twain advised over a hundred years ago, the fewer words you use, the clearer the message is.
Also, remember that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Instead of describing an idea with text, could a visual communicate it more succinctly? Use diagrams, tables, and animations when they’re appropriate.
Interesting side note: A recent Atlantic magazine article by Julie Beck cites research showing the fewer words you use, the more intelligent you appear. And, counter-intuitively, the bigger words you use, the less intelligent you appear.
4. Less cowbell.
Have you ever sat through eLearning where content just kept hitting you over the head with disconnected points like an annoying cowbell? The chorus in a great song provides a transition between the verses. Transitions create flow and help connect the objectives in your learning. Here’s an example:
“So, now you know how to avoid saying something really inappropriate. But what if you were Ariana? How should you respond to Frank’s inappropriate comment? That’s what we’ll cover next.”
I’d argue that these tips can also help your eLearning scripts become more musical, communicating ideas that will stick in our heads for a long time. And that’s the point of learning.
Jack is an instructional designer, inventor, screenwriter, dramatist, professor, speaker, and Shakespeare junkie, but you can just call him "The Bard." On the academic side, Jack earned a B.A. and Master of Liberal Arts from Rollins College (are you noticing a theme here?) and is currently studying Spanish at Valencia College. A long-time distance learning professor for Seminole State College and nationally-recognized speaker on eLearning, Jack stays busy both in and out of the office. He has been an instructional designer, producer, multimedia developer, writer and project manager on eLearning titles for organizations including YUM! Brand Restaurants, The Walt Disney Company, Chase Manhattan, among others.
Spirit animal: Jackalope
Diet-breaker: Boston Kreme donuts
Comfort object: My office slinky (says something, right?)
Personal vice: Chewing nails (usually just my own)
Useless talent: Plays the harmonica (hey, it helped pay my way through college)
Unreasonable paranoia: Very, very tall buildings
Wishes more people cared about: Fulfilling their potential