Creating an online learning personality

It’s the office Christmas party and everyone’s taking their seats at the table. Who would you rather sit next to, the rather dull colleague in the lovely dress or the one with the great stories who you really get on with? An e-learning course’s ‘look’ is important… but its ‘personality’ is paramount.

Some e-learning blogs include tips such as ‘use handwritten style fonts to make your e-learning engaging’ – but surely that’s like saying someone is interesting and likeable because they have a nice haircut? Effective graphic design and the overall presentation can make a course more user-friendly and visually exciting. However it’s a course’s voice and personality which can truly engage the learner.

Here are my five steps to engaging your learner by creating a distinct personality in an e-learning course.

1. Create a personality for the voice of the course at the beginning of the design process, rather than trying to ‘inject’ personality further down the line

If you’re at the stage where you’re adding in handwritten style fonts, it’s a bit late – the instructional design, graphic design and development need to work together to create a believable personality.

2. Set the right tone

The course speaks to your learner and aims to hold their attention for up to sixty minutes, so the tone of voice needs to be just right. Too patronising or ‘out there’ (picture someone who has drunk far too much at the office party) and your learner will cringe away. Too stuffy and formal and your learner will feel like they’re reading from a textbook, and who really remembers the order of the elements on the periodic table?

Write how you speak… It’s OK to begin sentences with ‘And’ and ‘But’.

3. Go beyond writing in the first or second person – create a person

Clark and Mayer’s theory states that personalisation ‘induces learners to engage with the computer as a social conversational partner’. Would you listen to someone who comes across as arrogant, dull and perhaps even a bit thick? Probably not. Create a social conversational partner that will engage your learner – someone they wouldn’t mind sitting next to at the Christmas do!

4. Agree your style guidelines

Turn your course’s personality traits into some style rules. Imagine how your social conversational partner might speak, so instead of ‘Course objectives’ introductory screens could begin with ‘What’s coming up’. Instructional design and graphic design need to agree on these style points before you write the course, as the writing tone, images of the course guide and the overall design need to be consistent. And if your learning solution is a blend you’ll need the involvement of, say, the classroom trainer and the social media expert.

5. Avoid Bieber-esque slip-ups… check the details!

I’m sure Biebs’ PR team isn’t too happy about the allegations that a fan is pregnant with his child. This supposed dalliance just doesn’t fit his carefully constructed butter-wouldn’t-melt persona. Avoid pulling a Bieber and instead take inspiration from Innocent, the smoothie-maker and brand language God which carries its distinctive tone of voice through from website to ingredients lists on product labels.

Check your style is consistent at every level – don’t lose your learner by overlooking details such as the style of the audio voiceover and check the writing style right down to image captions and launch page text. After all, you wouldn’t want your Christmas party outfit to be let down by laddered tights.


Clark, Ruth. C., Mayer, Richard. E. (2003). E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Edition. P.180. ISBN: 0-7879-6051-0