One Brilliant Trick to Keep Learners Transfixed

Confession: I love watching airline safety videos.

You know, the ones where they tell you how to get off the plane in case of emergency? And I bet I know what you’re thinking: that’s just weird.

Okay, I get that … and while it may seem a little odd to some, to me it’s an opportunity to see how other designers creatively tackle a tough training challenge.

And what a big challenge it is! With people crammed into the same tight space and everyone just wanting to get to their destination, there’s almost zero interest in paying attention to a safety lecture.

Crowded Airplane

Some airlines try to grab your attention by taking on a gloomy and serious tone in their safety briefings. They constantly remind you of the rules and regulations.

Gloomy & serious safety warnings 
But more and more airlines have clued in to what most of us already know: lectures are a big ol' bummer.

Take Delta, for instance. Have you seen their approach to safety videos? It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt, full of little hidden visual surprises—one-off delights—in nearly every scene. And the best part is that there are different versions of these videos. I fly regularly, and I’ve counted at least six different versions so far. This one is my favorite:   

Every Internet meme from the past five years all in one helpful video. And I bet you didn’t take your eyes off the screen, did you?

I’m not the only one who loves a good airline safety training video. David Anderson collected a bunch of great video examples in this recent weekly challenge. And while you’re at it, don’t miss out on the brilliant airline safety-themed courses many of our E-Learning Heroes community members created for that challenge.

But it’s not just the airlines who are catching on to the fun and friendly training video trend. Check out this playful yet purposeful example from a radio station training their staff on how to save recorded shows.

What I love about this is that everything, from the cheesy retro 1980s intro to the corny special effects (and the somersaults), makes you feel like you’re in on the joke. It’s one big wink-wink-nudge-nudge. And with a continuous stream of sight gags and subtle humor, you feel rewarded for paying attention.

Besides being clever, another thing these videos have in common is that they don’t talk down to their audience. They throw in that dash of the unexpected, knowing they’ll engage you by being genuinely warm and human. And who doesn’t love that?

How Can You Add a Dose of the Unexpected to Your Courses?

Good news! Transfixing your learners doesn’t need to be a budget-buster, nor take your content deep into slapstick territory. Here are just a few creative ideas to play with (see what I did there?):

  • Brainstorming treatments for your content? Try doing a little design mapping to uncover and explore your ideas from many different angles. Get the low-down and a walk-thru of one design mapping technique here.
  • Don’t worry about getting clever! Instead, set up learners with the basics and then get them to create their own content (e.g., how-to videos). Encourage them to elaborate on the topic, or just show off what they’ve learned and how they’re applying it on the job. Then, reward them for coming up with their own dash of the unexpected. 
  • Break the mold! If your learners are used to serious, dull, or droning courses, think about ways you can turn that boring content on its ear. For instance, while this isn’t a training video, I do think this “A Conference Call in Real Life” video is an inspired idea (not to mention hilarious). Imagine how you could use a similar approach to exploring lackluster topics like email etiquette or filling out a timesheet? 
  • Play with perspective. Instead of doing a standard course about hand-washing techniques, think about how you could cover the same information, only from a germ’s perspective.
  • Lacking inspiration? In addition to fun training videos on YouTube, I look for ideas in the world around me. Anything from mobile apps to information kiosks at my local museum to the menu at my favorite restaurant can end up sparking some creative ideas. I also find scouring E-Learning Heroes for examples and free downloads is a great way to spark my imagination.

How are you mixing things up with your training? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to creatively tackle tough training challenges. Share your ideas in a comment below or add your voice and share your work in our Building Better Courses forum.

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. 

Jhulio Solis-Fondeur
Ron Arnold