I was up in London earlier this week, sat in the reception of the Gherkin, one of the landmark buildings that houses a number of my clients. Ah, i thought, they’ve changed the chairs. They used to have large red leather benches that, whilst comfortable, had a habit of slipping around the floor whenever you sat down on them. They’d been replaced by larger, more substantial, red leather sofas, with backs, that didn’t slip. Nice, i thought. Wonder how much that cost? I glimpsed down at the new glass table, covered by a few newspapers.
Argentina reckon they’ll have the Falkland Islands back in twenty years. Really? The Equal Marriage act passed. Some fuss about Libor rate fixing again. Grab one of the papers and flick to page six to check review of new Tate Modern show with Kraftwerk. Interesting. Then my contact arrived and i headed off.
Twenty eight seconds of interaction and i got plenty from it.
In terms of communication, it gave me everything i needed: a comfortable place to sit and rapid access to information. It didn’t come with a welcome screen, a disclaimer, a video of a guy in a suit telling me why it’s important and, certainly, no learning objectives. But i learnt something anyway.
Communication is about messages. Think about the way you talk to your friends, your partner: these conversations are laden with history. Shared experiences, nicknames, shared values, mutual understanding. They are typically highly informal, often using in jokes or references that would be inexplicable to me. When i talk to Sally Jean i usually try to slip in a reference to beating her at Scrabble, not because i’m better than her, but because i know it will goad her into another challenging game. It’s just what we always do. When i talk to Maria i always deliberately ask her how her last job is going: it’s our in joke that she freelances and moves so much that i can’t keep up. With Rich, we always include quotes from video games.
Communication is about messages, but people relate to people. Good communication is built on being easy, effective, personal and relevant. In my 28 seconds on a leather sofa, i could access information effectively: headlines are good for that, and i could delve deep into the article that interested me. Simple.
When we’re communicating through learning design, we need to keep things simple, keep it clear. Why use eight words when six will do? And why explain things that are obvious? And why use formal voices when conversational ones would work and be easier to engage with?
It’s always been an issue in learning design, the wordy and formal introductions, the stilted and staid scripts, the use of jargon and complexity because we think it makes it gives gravitas or quality. But now, in the world of social learning, it’s less relevant than ever before. In social learning spaces, formal language sticks out like a sore thumb. It sounds like the teacher telling us all off.
Social spaces are inherently conversational: they are the semi formal layers surrounding the formal. We need to adjust our approach, our style and our language accordingly.