How to make your digital learning memorable with humour and emotion

January 21, 2022

We all want our digital learning to be remembered for the right reasons. For learners to be able to tell you, several weeks later, what they took away from the learning experience and what they do differently as a result.

Unfortunately, what they remember isn't always what we want them to!

Why is this? It's often down to emotion, humour or distinctiveness. If you want to leverage them for the right reasons, read on!

Emotion and memory

As humans, when we look back over our life experiences to date, we tend to remember our highs and lows. The joy, the excitement, the sadness and the regret. Not so much of the ‘fine’. That’s because emotion influences a lot of our human cognitive processes and has a particularly strong influence on memory.

There’s substantial evidence that shows that feeling something on an emotional level activates the amygdala - one of our most primitive parts of our brain - and is more likely to get embedded in long term memory as a result.

Ask yourself: how can I provoke an emotional response in my learning programme? 

Try these two suggestions:

1. Tell emotive stories of near misses or real consequences

Remember that authenticity is everything; false emotion will have the opposite effect of the one you want. 

If the stories you’re telling are real, have the real people involved tell them, either live on a virtual call, or through video. If you’re creating a fictionalised version it’s ok to use actors, just make that clear up front.

2. Include multi-sensory experiences

We’ve all felt creeping dread produced by some well chosen music in a horror film, or welled up at an emotional fundraising video. Fast paced videos, music and striking visuals all contribute to our emotional state. 

A well placed video at the start of your learning experience can help raise the emotional stakes at the early on and make the learning memorable.

Distinctiveness and memory

The Von Restorff effect explains that we’re much more likely to remember something distinctive or incongruous; something that stands out against a background of homogeneity.

It’s why we highlight key words when we’re revising to help us remember them. And why, if we get a bit overenthusiastic and end up highlighting a whole page, it doesn’t have the desired effect. The highlight is no longer what stands out.

Ask yourself: how could I make my key learning point stand out, and when should I do it? 

Two suggestions:

1. Embrace humour

Try making something stand out with a funny clip or gif that reinforces the learning point. It will snap your learners out of any glazed-over state they may have fallen into and help them remember that key point. Make sure the humour is actually relevant to the learning point though, otherwise learners will just remember the funny gif that was positioned next to your very important message… What was that message again?

2. Make your key point stand out on the page

Big red underlined words might feel overly assertive, but there’s a reason they’re often used; they stand out and stick in our minds. For a softer but still distinctive approach, play around with typography, colour, backgrounds and shapes to make your key takeaways stand out. 

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