Now what happens when you mix a bit of e-learning with corporate video making and throw in a comedian with a cult-like Social Media following? The answer is (Comed)e-learning a venture launched by the British Comedian, writer and actor David Schneider along with Emil Reisser-Weston of e-Learning WMB.
The company produces an entirely unique e-learning experience and aims to spice up the dull e-learning/corporate video sector. The idea is that the humour makes the message more memorable.
The team’s goal is to be the video arts of the e-learning industry. Emil and David popped by Midori House to explain why learning should be a laughing matter.
[Cuts to an example of humorous e-learning written and presented by David Schneider]
e-Learning WMB has been going for quite some time, since 2003; essentially we are an e-learning company. There are a lot of e-learning companies out there and they largely do very much the same thing, they produce PowerPoint style e-learning which is flat and 2-dimensional.
We decided to take a different approach, we thought what would be the best way to teach people using e-learning. Now we try to mimic the traditional chalk and talk approach; a video presenter comes in talks, demonstrates things etc. In doing that when we found we interjected jokes into the e-learning we found it was a lot more effective, i.e. it was remembered better. And it was really through that, that we decided to work with some professionals and that’s when we bought David in.
So David, what was your interest initially in the e-Learning sector?
It comes from my interest in Twitter. “Interest” is a polite word, [really] my obsession and addiction to Twitter. I am an actor, writer, comedian initially, who then discovered Twitter and all that actor, writer, comedian thing slightly went out the window because I could suddenly say things in 140 characters. Spent a lot of my time honing my skills on Twitter, trying to justify to my family why I was on Twitter all the time and part of that strategy was to set up a social media business called “That Lot” to help businesses and brands promote themselves on Twitter, Facebook etc.
I wanted to do something with e-learning and Twitter when one of my colleagues in the business put me in touch with Emil. I saw what he was doing and got quite excited about the software his company developed, because a lot of what I do us with jokes, the power of humour and satire. I know that if you say “Ohh, I hate the government, ohhh!” It’s not going to get lots of shares and retweets, but if you sort of hide that in a joke and that does well. So that you can apply obviously to e-learning. And when I saw that Emil’s software is so adaptable that you can be in any situation in any environment. If I want to be talking like an astronaut in space - I’m not saying it’s exactly like the film Gravity - but it’s very flexible and allows you to have the comedic imagination to put your point across. Visually there’s no limits and that’s really exciting and that’s what we have tried to work on.
So Emil tell us about these environments, we were watching some of the e-learning before, they are like virtual environments that 3D people walk through?
Yes, essentially we load in a virtual environment. That could be a company’s atrium, or as David says “Space”; we can really load in anything we want to, then we shoot our actors in a green screen studio and then put them into the scene. So we are working in a similar way to documentaries or small television programs, but these are interactive. It has the traditional things that e-learning has, you can click on elements, buttons, ask questions, set tests, but if you were to walk pass the screen you would think you were looking at a television program. It is that sophistication of the technology that enables us to work with David and produce something very professional.
That’s the brilliance of it I suppose, that it is not let’s make gravity expensive. It is really quite light on it’s feet. It’s easy not just to get the initial environments, but also to make the changes.
There’s two exciting things really: there’s the environments and technology and how light on it’s feet it is; and there’s that balance (I started my life off as an academic teaching) and there’s that balance in humour and getting your point across. The seduction is in playing with all the environments and doing something really creative, but your function is in teaching and it is getting that balance right which has been quite exciting. Essentially the potential to opening the learning up so that it is not dry, that’s the essence of it.
So what is the process then? A company comes to you, has an idea they want to get across and then they leave it to you to express that somehow?
Yes, we do work in a normal corporate way, but often a company will come to us with a dry subject and ask us to make it more effective learning material to produce e-learning. What we do is introduce David to show them what we can do with humour, demonstrate some examples of our work and generally they love it and say where can we sign and when do we start? Then we take their base material and form it into an e-learning script and at that stage when all the learning points are there, we then pass it over to David and he puts the comedy magic into it. Then we have something that when the user runs through it, it keeps the attention going due to the humour, the learning goals are highlighted by the use of visual gags so recall is better and people are generally more satisfied with the learning. We are getting away from the rapid clicking of the next button to reach the end, to something that people actually want to do.
That is how we work with others, but anyone can come to our site and create their own e-learning using our software Jackdaw Cloud. There is no payment necessary, you only pay if you want to run the courses out to people on our Learning Management System. So people can create the e-learning themselves, or they can come to us and we can create (Comed) e-learning for them.
So for you, do you think Comedy helps with memory retention? How does it actually help the process of learning?
Yes, comedy acts as little flag-posts or crampons (that’s a dangerous word to say) but that’s what mountaineers use. It allows them to dig into rock - essentially little pegs you can hang ideas on. As a satirist I know that, you can say something bland it can be forgotten, but if you tweak it and make it a joke then it is much more likely to be remembered. People are much more likely to remember jokes then their times tables, essentially if you are interested and has an emotional impact on you, then it is something you are much more likely to remember.
Effectively it [humour] is making the information stand out. It is like seeing a green goldfish in a bowl. The other gold ones will not stand out (analogous to unfunny e-learning) but the green one will be remembered better. The green fish is salient, it will stand out and as such there are more cues to get back to the memory of that fish. In the same way humour is making the facts stand out and leads to better e-learning.
David, what subjects have you tackled particularly, what dry ones have you made fun or otherwise?
Yes, we just did a course for Places for People, which is a housing association and some of their stats were really quite “statty” and “we have a 140 this and a 140 that etc.” but the challenge there was how to make this list of stats interesting. So we experimented with having a ventriloquist's teddy, so we could emphasise facts by repeating them using the teddy by saying them twice. For instance “They have 148 houses!! How many do they have teddy?” and teddy would reply with the answer again. And people would enjoy the joke of it, they would still be smiling and that is the challenge.
With my Twitter company we have a similar situations. A company would come to me and say we make bolts and there is nothing interesting about what we do. But for me that is really exciting, because there’s jokes with nuts and bolts, doing something after the horse has bolted, you could set up an account for [Usain] Bolt; there is just so much you can do with it. The duller the content, the more exciting and creative challenge it is for me is to keep the person watching the e-learning interested.