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How humor helps with learning.

humor leren
Anniek Digital Learning Specialist
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Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

On a scale of 1-10, how important do you think it is that you remember what you learn in an e-learning? The score probably scores on the right side of the scale, toward the 8, 9 or maybe the 10? So important, but how do we make sure the content sticks Maybe you’ve heard of Ebbinghaus’ “Forgetting Curve. Briefly, the theory of the forgetting curve shows us that we forget what we have learned fairly quickly. Already within a few days we have lost 60% of the knowledge gained. After that, the rate at which we forget information decreases at a slower rate. Fortunately, there are several factors that can affect this rate of forgetting. One of those factors is about how the information is offered. This can include spaced learning, which repeats information over an extended period of time, as well as humor. You’re joking, right!


The humor effect

Did you know that people are generally better able to remember information that they perceive as humorous? This is called the ‘humor effect’. Humor raises our energy levels and increases our attention and interest in a subject. In addition, it creates a learning environment that is perceived as relaxed and interesting. Such a learning environment ensures that it is safe to learn and try. Besides learning from the content, we also have fun doing it. This in turn affects our motivation to learn and ultimately our performance in the workplace.

So why isn’t every e-learning an episode of Friends or The Office?

Humor can work positively if we use it well, but it can also backfire. It is possible that people do not take the content seriously anymore, if there is too much humor. And besides: what makes me laugh may not be perceived as funny by you.

Humor works best when it supports the content and connects with the target audience. After all, our goal is to use humor so that participants remember the content of the learning solution, not that they only remember that it was funny.

Consider the following points to use humor most effectively:

  • Type: use humor in a positive way. Make sure it fits the target audience; not everyone finds the same things funny. A joke with complicated technical jargon may connect with experienced employees, but not with new employees who are not yet familiar with the subject.
  • Style: use humor that is not too extreme, but again not too subtle. A little word joke or funny design can already work.
  • Quantity: do not use humor too often, as it should not dominate the content. Ensure a good balance between content and humor.
  • Timing: use humor at the right time, such as after a pre- or post-assessment to take some of the tension off and introduce a short break. Or just in an example of a colleague, to make this more personal and light-hearted.
  • Way: mix humor with the content in a natural way and make sure the humor is related to the topic and not separate from the content. Also bring diversity to how you bring the humorous elements: from funny personal anecdotes from employees in a case study, to subtle puns in your titles and playful GIFs when giving feedback.

As you can imagine, certain topics lend themselves better to humor than the others. Still, it may surprise you. Even heavy topics can become just a little lighter with the right use of humor, making it easier for a learner to get through it and remember it better.

Are you unsure if humor is an appropriate tool to increase the learning efficiency of your target audience? Please feel free to contact us. In exchange for a good mop, we are happy to give advice.

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