Using a Conversational Tone in your eLearning Courses


In my last blog post, I explored the Modality Principle from the book Elearning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer. In this post, I’ll examine another principle in the book – the Personalisation Principle in Chapter 8. The chapter examines 3 types of personalisation principles but I’m just going to review the first principle.

The first Personalisation Principle in this chapter supports using a conversational style of writing in our online modules. Using a conversational writing style can help explain the content in simple, plain English.

“Based on cognitive theory and research evidence, we recommend that you create or select e-Learning courses that include some spoken or printed text that is conversational rather than formal”. (Clark and Mayer, 2011)

There has always been some debate that if we put content in a conversational or informal style, this can ‘detract from the seriousness of the message’. Just because you are using an informal style does not mean that the content should be sloppy or use slang terms. It’s all about keeping things simple. It should feel like a conversation, not a lecture while still feeling professional.

In this chapter, Clark and Mayer discuss a study done involving a computer-based educational game on botany (Moreno and Mayer (2000b 2004). Some of the information was presented in a conversational style and some in a formal style.

The following is an excerpt from the lessons used in the study:

Formal Version

This program is about what type of plants survive on different planets. For each planet, a plant will be designed. The goal is to learn what type of roots, stems and leaves allow the plant to survive each environment. Some hints are provided throughout the program.

Personalised Version

You are about to start a journey where you will be visiting different planets. For each planet, you will need to design a plant. Your mission is to learn what types of roots, stem and leaves will allow your plant to survive in each environment. I will be guiding you through by giving you some hints.

Which version did you prefer? Why?

The study confirmed that the students who accessed the content using a conversational style ‘performed better on subsequent transfer tests than students who learned with formal text’.

Tips for Writing in a Conversational Voice:

  • Don’t use a passive voice. So instead of writing …..”A decision was reached”… you would say, “I made a decision.”
  • Use contractions. It will sound more normal if you say “don’t” and “won’t.”
  • Ask questions.
  • Use “I” and “you”.  It’s like you’re really talking to your readers.
  • Keep your sentences short.
  • Write as if you are telling a story.
  • Don’t overuse very complex terms. Keep your words at three syllables or less.
  • Read eveything out loud.

There are some online tools that allow you to check if your content is too wordy or not readable. Using a conversational tone can depend on your context . However, from my review of this chapter, it has reinforced the importance of using a conversational tone to help my audience engage more with the content and ultimately improve their ability to remember that content!

It’s all about keeping things simple!

“A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman, who instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws in hopes he may hit.” Samuel Johnston

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