by Jennie Ruby
"In this course you will learn the functionality of [insert topic you've never heard of]. By the end of this lesson, you should be able to [do a bunch of procedures the utility of which is not immediately evident]."
Traditionally, many of us have written these types of sentences at the top of page 1 of our courseware materials or eLearning scripts, and then that has served as our audience's only introduction to the topic of the course.
It doesn't have to be that way. I'd like to introduce the Introductory Narrative--a brief paragraph prior to the sentences above and the list of objectives. Its job is to engage the learner and perhaps provide a little positivity and motivation.
The introductory narrative should do five things.
- Signal the correct audience.
- Use the word "you" to talk directly to the learner.
- Explain the "what's in it for me" (WIIFM) for the learner.
- Say some positive and encouraging words about the topic of the training and/or the process of learning it.
- Finally, name the [topic you've never heard of] as the very last words of the paragraph.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll be exploring each of these topics in turn. Today let's look at the first one: signaling the correct audience.
Signaling the correct audience is indicating in your first sentence who the intended audience is for the course or lesson. It can be done a couple of different ways.
First, you can always indicate the correct audience for a course or lesson by explicitly naming the job title or describing the situation of the person the learning is meant to address, and using the word you:
As a warehouse employee here at ABC Company, you...
As the parent of a newborn, you...
Another popular way to signal the intended audience is to ask a question. If the learner answers yes, they are the correct audience:
Have you ever taken a picture of someone and had their eyes come out red?
Do you need a quick way to transfer files between computers?
Do you need to build an authentication and identity API?
Learners who answer yes, immediately understand that the lesson is for them. Those who answer no or don't recognize what you are talking about will instantly know that the training is not intended for them.
A more subtle way to signal the correct audience is to describe a real-world situation with "you" at the center:
So you've landed the interview. Now you've got to land the job.
Without directly saying "this training is intended for persons who are currently seeking employment," the message is conveyed that if you are currently trying to get a job, this training is for you.
Of course the introductory narrative for training materials is not the only place you might need to use these methods of signaling the correct audience.
You might need to do this in the subject line of a company-wide email aimed at a subset of employees. Or in the first paragraph of any article or blog entry. Or you might need to write a course description to help potential learners identify the correct training for them.
Do you have other interesting ways to signal your correct audience? Please post your suggestions as comments below.
Kevin Siegel and Jennie Ruby, Writing for Curriculum Development 3.0, 2014, IconLogic.
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