Home > Similarities between Course Design and Magic (!) > The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #5: The Power of Silence

The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #5: The Power of Silence

The subject of silence is a somewhat neglected technique in both  eLearning and magic.

Many magicians discard one of the most powerful pieces of close-up magic I perform because it is “too simple” and (apparently) well known by many lay-people.  It consists of a small stick with coloured jewels inserted in each side of it. A young boy or girl will choose any number from 1-6 and all the jewels on both sides change to the colour represented by that number, they then change back.

I believe the trick works beautifully because of the silence I use before the reveal. I get the child to blow on my hand then I wait – I do nothing for 2 seconds before showing them the magic they have created. The strongest reactions often come from the parents, who apparently (if you believe many magicians anyway…) know all about this trick. Just 2 seconds of silence creates incredible tension after the counting. The psychological and physical “relief” that is created when I do the reveal is quite surprising.

In eLearning, you can use the same tensions to your advantage, (and I am talking about narrated learning here). One way is to include a slide that just asks one simple question. The question needs to be highly relevant and specific to the behaviour, facts or scenario that you are discussing, but one question and a Pause in the course can introduce that moment of introspection that brings the course alive.

It works because you make a personal connection with the viewer/listener. Ask a question then stop talking – it is an interesting technique to play with.

In your planning phase, perhaps as the SME “What 3 questions would you most like to ask the audience, individually?

Many magicians are so relieved to get safely towards the the end of a trick that they rush through it and leave no time for silence. Many with poor presentational skills would not consider it anyway. With online learning, we do have time to pause; the “reflection time” is a fabulous chance to make the learner think, learn, and actually remember.

Give the learner some SPACE to listen, and learn – you cannot, and should not talk all the time.

  1. September 24, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Great observation! I agree that the power of silence in elearning is underestimated. Nobody wants to hear narration droning on. Put yourself in the learners shoes and you will find your mind wandering off as the narrator talks your ear off. Silence is a great way to build drama into your eLearning as you have pointed out.


    • September 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

      OOH! “The Drama of eLearning” 🙂 I feel another post coming on…..
      Time to briing back to life my patented “emotigraph” for courses.
      Thanks for the comments Joe.


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