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There is not a soul on earth who doesn’t like to laugh. Sure, you may have a person here or there with abdominal injuries who may be caused pain from excessive laughter, but under normal circumstances, humorous laughter is a universally pleasant experience.

eLearning can benefit greatly when a little humor is introduced to the mix. Too often, eLearning courses take themselves a little bit too seriously, and this goes over about as well as it would when a real person in the physical world takes themselves too seriously: not well.

Imagine you’re at work and a coworker you interact with every day is deadly serious about everything. You ask him about his kids and he glares. You give him the old “Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?” line, and his fists clench in absolute rage. Well, in that last one, he’s probably justified, but you get the point.

This isn’t to say that humor is necessary in all circumstances, all the time. There are always topics that are far too serious to joke about in the context of an eLearning course. There’s a time and a place.

Here are a few tips for successfully toeing the humor line in your eLearning.

Make it relevant

While a major part of humor is surprise and subversion of expectations, that doesn’t mean that all jokes should come out of left field. In other words, you don’t tell a joke just for the sake of telling a joke. It should happen organically, rising out of the material being covered. If you were at a seminar and in the middle of a lecture about astronomy, the professor just stopped, and apropos of nothing, said, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Would you be inclined to laugh? Probably not. You might even fear for the professor’s wellbeing.

Don’t be overbearing or excessive

You can always have too much of a good thing. Remember that an eLearning course is not a comedy routine. Humor can and should have a presence when it’s warranted, but don’t make it the focus of the course, because then it distracts from the material and even runs the risk of annoying the learner, further alienating them from the course. Instead, treat it like dessert. You should never eat dessert for every meal because then you’re not getting the nutrients you need and your cake becomes much less special.

But if you only have dessert occasionally as a special treat, it becomes a reward, a brief but welcome break from the serious stuff that you actually need. Humor is the same way.

Don’t ever let your learner be the target of the joke

At a very early age, we all learn the important difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. In a professional setting, laughing at someone is not advised. The learner is likely taking time out of their busy schedule in order to take your course. If you insult them, you’re telling them that you care more about goofing off than you do about using their time productively, and in the modern world, wasting someone’s time is a big no no.


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