Using the Personalization Principle

This week I read about the Personalization Principle in Clark and Mayer’s book on E-Learning. For a task, I had to imagine that I had written a text for an e-learning course and my team leader who was an English major was upset with the more conversational tone I had used. The following is an imaginative response to the hypothetical situation in order to justify the use of the 3 main tenants of the Principle.

Thank you for your feedback Mark, I appreciate it. I know the narrative seemed different from my previous work but if you give me a couple of minutes, I’ll try to explain my word choice. You know that I hate a split infinitive as much as you do but there is some really good research behind my apparent slide to the dark side!

I have just finished reading about something called the Personalization Principle and it was eye opening.  The basic premise is that in certain circumstances and with certain conditions, conversational style can be used to aid more effective learning. It is covered in the Clark and Mayer book that I have told you about before. (Clark and Mayer 2011)

They have looked a range of studies and hard evidence that support the theory that a more conversational tone can support greater learning. That is why I used second person active rather than passive voice – I wasn’t going crazy! They acknowledge that it seems to go against a common sense viewpoint but that it is inline with research into how the brain works.  The use of personal pronouns helps to engage the learner and build a personal connection with the content.

The chapter I read goes on to look at how using a human voice seems to promote learning more than a computer-generated voice. I know that is something your team have been playing with, so it could fit in perfectly? A more conversational tone also doesn’t mean more impolite, just more personal. There is also some really good data on the use of pedagogical agents on screen that I think we should look into.

The final aspect of their research looks at how visible to make the author of the lesson. By making the author of the lesson more visible to the learner, motivation levels of the learner are higher. When you read the chapter it all makes sense. There is not a huge volume of research yet but enough to justify the theory.

I think that we should really try to use some of their ideas. By changing a few words and using a real voice with a visible author, I think there is a good chance that we can achieve higher learning levels with our students. If we don’t see results, the work involved in going back to a more formal style is pretty minimal. I know that we have to be careful to get the balance correct and not go too far and make our lessons, distracting or condescending, to the students. Maybe I can lend you the book to see what you think – there are some good examples to look over.

Happy to talk about it further when you have some time.

Thanks again for your feedback


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.) San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.