Most of us aren’t full cyborgs just yet; the technology is cost-prohibitive and the endoskeletal replacement procedures are dicey at best. But as society patiently waits for the harrowing singularity that forever distorts the lines between human instinct and programmed actions, we still can develop software to improve our lives by changing behaviors, outlooks, and attitudes.
Why would someone want to integrate an emotional angle into their training? It’s a powerful motivator, often more compelling than facts, and definitely more convincing than facts alone. If a strong instructional design involves creating a mental model, offering meaningful examples, and providing practice opportunities, incorporating an emotional appeal can add a kind of intangible depth that makes your training resonate long after the browser tab is closed.
Dread gets a bad rap. Sure, yes, it is inherently an awful feeling with deep, insidious consequences that can paralyze you into complete mental and physical stagnation. But in the right context it is also exciting—the most effective thrillers mete out dread in precise measure to keep you glued to the screen. A single shadowy camera shot can instantly convince you that the killer is not in fact in the shed but GAH BEHIND THE TRACTOR THE RUSTY TRACTOR!
OK, so in a training environment you probably want a lighter hand. But why not paint a clear picture of the consequences of ignoring a compliance policy? Get inside the head of a character in the exact moment they realize the specific trouble they have created. If your content warrants it, draw out an image of the implications, with some nuance around how the character’s situation has become more difficult or uncertain. Maybe their workload is far more complicated, and under more annoying supervision. Users can take away a well-crafted word of caution as a lasting call to action.
The vast majority of training is not funny. Training that tries to be funny usually comes off flat and tiresome. It’s understandable. Often the intent is pure: to lighten the mood in some otherwise dull mandatory lessons. In truth, though, the content isn’t super conducive to humor, and it’s tricky to be genuinely funny when you have a lot of actual dry information to communicate. People think, oh this humor will be so welcome! But, many people don’t look for humor in their training, so they aren’t going to be as open to it, and it becomes a much harder sell, even turning a little tedious or distracting. Finally, it gets practically difficult to wedge actual jokes into your scripts given that many organizations don’t want to expand seat time any more than necessary.
That was an admittedly dour take on using humor, so here is the other argument: It can be truly appreciated and great! Try a more subtle approach by adding short throwaway lines that indicate the narrator’s self-awareness. Avoid expected setup/punchline formats or belabored metaphors. Tactical wit often plays much better than parody or broad gags. Direct your narrators to play with tone more—try a deadpan or some inclusive sarcasm as a wink to the user. Sometimes using plain-spoken language and a more relaxed explanation is enough to make people smile and dig in. Integrate some clever visual details into your environments for users to stumble upon as Easter eggs. If you want a bigger impact, go all in on a legit funny trailer or animation style that deploys humor as the sharpened edge for carving out your message. Workshop the script a little to make sure you’re eliciting knowing nods (rather than rolling eyes).
This is obviously the learning sweet spot. You always want to spark curiosity, in essentially every learning experience. It’s a massive catalyst for actual behavior change. If you can manage to make a user feel curiosity, their minds are open and ready for something new and unfamiliar. Make users feel curiosity by asking them good, probing scenario questions instead of rote, basic knowledge checks. Give them evocative situations to puzzle out, and surprise them with some jarring interruptions if need be. Lead them to big conclusions by equipping them with strong evidence step by step.
It’s true people don’t usually want to feel anger right at the moment when they are supposed to be learning something. So maybe the lesson is this: Keep checking in with yourself to ensure you’re not making training that is distracting or frustrating. Don’t drone on and on, don’t make people log into five things before launching the course, don’t condescend with really obvious platitudes. Don’t warn me that something is good or bad without being honest about how. I can take it! Usually!
Bottom line: Think about your users holistically. Coming at them from one angle can seem like a simple and quick solution, but some messages require more finesse to take hold. Emotions often drive habits and behaviors so including an honest appeal to them in your design can make a big difference. Unless your users are no longer human, yikes.