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Personalization Principle

April 9, 2013

You have been working on a script for a narrated lesson. As a teacher, you are convinced that a more relaxed, less formal conversational style is the way to go. However, you need to get this approved by your instructional design team, one of whom is an English major and a stickler for “proper” English and grammar. When you show him your script, he is aghast. How might you respond?

I would respond by first acknowledging the teacher’s concern and ask about specific concerns. Is the concern due to the informal nature and “style” of the presentation? Or is there concern with actual “grammar” that should in fact be corrected such as disagreement between single and plural verb and nouns within sentences, misspellings, inappropriate and unprofessional slange, inappropriate and offensive language, etc.

If the concern is due to the informal style, then I would refer the teacher to Clark and Mayer (2011), specifically to the Personalization Principle. Research shows that personalization of material improves student learning. Instructional material that is conversational and informal in tone creates a sense of presence with the learner. Clark and Mayer hypothesize that this sense of presence increases learner motivation. Research shows that in all cited studies, students scored higher when material was presented in an informal conversational style rather than a formal style. Informal style includes first and second-person language and contractions.

It is important, however, to acknowledge the proper boundaries of personalization. Clark and Mayer (2011) rightly point out that too much personalization causes distraction which can hinder learning. Therefore, they recommend staying away from unprofessional slang such as “dude!”. If the English teacher in the case study is concerned because the grammar itself is incorrect or the personalization is too extreme, then it is important to recognize this valid concern and address it. The text authors stress that if the tone is too informal it becomes an “inappropriate tool for learning” (p. 188).

I had the chance to strike this balance in an orientation I created this past week. The multimedia video included a screencast and I appeared in a small corner through a video camera recording at the same time. I deliberately struck an informal conversational tone. Students are new MSN graduate students, many of whom are unfamiliar with library and research skills. Therefore I need to be seen as a welcoming presence so students feel free to contact me throughout the program. While my tone was informal, conversational, personal, and welcoming, it was also professional. It would be unacceptable for me to portray myself or the content in a less than professional manner. I think it is important to draw distinctions between informal and unprofessional.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction : proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
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