Back when I was a kid I loved watching the TV show “The Electric Company.” The show used funny skits and simple animation to teach elementary aged kids (those who were too old for Sesame Street) reading and writing skills. The show’s theme song promised to “turn it on (and) give you the power.” And they did. The show was highly creative, hip, and open-minded (mixed-race relations, for example). It was good stuff. Recently, being in a nostalgic mood, my wife and I took out a DVD copy of old Electric Company episodes from our local library.
I am in awe and now have a new set of instructional design heroes. Move over Gagne. Like a lot of childen’s education, the show does a great job at explaining complicated things in a simple, fun way that make sense and are easy to apply. A good example is their lesson on “silent e” of the English language.
Pretty cool, huh? Now read what some smart writer on wikipedia wrote about the same topic:
Silent E is a writing convention in English spelling. When reading, the silent letter e at the end of a word signals a specific pronunciation of the preceding vowel letter….
Yawn…..ughhh……OK, that really sucks. If you want to learn more about silent e’s orthographic pattern you can read more here. I’d rather scrape my head on hot Georgia asphalt.
Now, the writer at wikipedia probably wasn’t writing with creative or effective instructional design in mind. But an awful lot of adult educational material reads like that. IDs and other business writers tend to make things too complicated, too long, and too detailed. I guess deep inside, a lot of us secretly think that long explanations with plenty of big words make us sound smarter.
Instead, we need to apply these lessons that The Electric Company writers mastered long before e-learning even existed:
- Get to the point.
- Keep it simple: Leave out the theory and unnessary explanation.
- Show how to do something.
- Give lots of examples.
- Be light, engaging, and fun.
- Don’t be afraid to express yourself in the material. (Its OK to show some personality! Honestly.)
Is it possible to turn adult learners on and bring them the power of The Electric Company?
Yeah, yeah. I know. Adult learners are different. I studied the theory and know the rules. But are we that much different? Not so much. Sure, sometimes what we need to teach is complicated and dry by nature. But too often we tend to bore victims learners with text heavy e-learning. We can do better. We can be light, simple, engaging, fun, and still reach adult learners. Don’t believe me?
Check out this Common Craft video explaining what a wiki is:
Notice that the video embodies some of the same pointers I took from the Electric Company: to the point, fun, engaging, and simple. No long-winded explanations. Good stuff!
So, think about the last boring e-learning you sat though (or created!). How could you apply the Electric Company lessons to YOUR course? How can you make learning a bit more fun and expressive? It might be worth a gamble. Go ahead….turn ’em on. Give ’em the power!
Need some musical motivation? Get turned on with the groovy theme song.