Information Security Awareness, Training and Motivation — Native Intelligence, Inc.

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Is eLearning Content Born Interesting or Made Interesting?

It's a question of nature versus nurture.


Those who argue for nature point to stories like the one below as examples of natural security awareness content.

Blog posting of bad day at the office, describing the experiences of someone who accidentally erased the hard drive on her company's computer.

Off site link


I say it's nurture. Interesting content is made that way. Content that is born interesting and ready for the world of elearners is rare. While some topics are naturally more interesting than others, most content starts out as less-than-memorable.

Perhaps it's because not sharing your password and backing up your data aren't usually matters of life or death. Security and privacy course content is not typically sensational, lurid, or even entertaining.

Celebrity spokes-models, sports heroes, and rock stars don't call us and offer to donate their time to the security awareness cause. (If you're a celebrity and would like to support security and privacy awareness, please let us know.)

Information goes in one ear and out the other.Awareness information often includes policies and procedures, requirements, and responsibilities. It's filled with "You musts" and "Don't evers" and "Make sure you do this's." When such dry material is turned into an electronic page turner the information doesn't stick.

Raise your hand if you've seen this happen with information security content:

  • Employees attend a briefing on a new security policy, and the next day they are observed continuing to implement the old policy.
  • Many people who take an online awareness course can't remember the main topics the week after they've completed the course.

Is communicating ideas so that people will listen and care an art or a science?

President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg with a speech of 265 words. Almost 150 years later we still remember and care about those words.

What if Abraham Lincoln had used PowerPoint to present the Gettysburg Address?

Gettysburg address in slide show.Here's one way that it might have turned out. The idea is from Peter Norvig who created a site that provides a more detailed look at how Lincoln's Gettysburg Address would have fared in PowerPoint form.

Off site link

Interesting and memorable eLearning content requires more than PowerPoint.  It needs to be communicated in a way that makes us care.

To Make Content Stick

Break the content down into small sections because we best remember what comes first and last. Including more starts and stops helps learners remember.

  • Use the element of surprise Su - the element of surprise, number 120 on the periodic table of elements. to generate curiosity and interest. The unexpected, including humor and failure, is easier to remember. The greater the emotional impact, the stronger the memory. Do you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you learned about the Space Shuttle Columbia or Challenger disasters (2003 and 1986), or about the attacks of September 11, 2001? We remember these events because we did not expect them and because they had a visceral impact.
  • Include material that stirs the emotions. We feel for individuals more strongly than for groups or abstract causes. We feel for Liz (story above) when she accidentally erased that hard drive. We feel for Yoki Echols, who received letter from the IRS in March of 2007 telling her that her 2006 tax return was being reviewed. She quickly called the IRS, because she hadn't yet filed her 2006 tax return. Someone else had filed a return in mid-January 2007 in her name, using her Social Security number. The phone number for the tax preparer who had filed the return in her name was disconnected. The next day, a bank in Santa Barbara demanded repayment for a $1,900 refund anticipation loan taken out in her name. Ms. Echols has had difficulty convincing the IRS and the bank that she did not send the tax return nor apply for the refund loan.

    We can make this content stronger by adding something that not everyone knows:

    Did you know?The Treasury Department Inspector General for tax administration reported that nearly 18% of the 45,000 fraudulent refunds in 2006 involved identity theft.

    Source: Lisa Myers and Amna Nawaz, "Identity thieves tap into lucrative tax fraud, It's easier to steal from the IRS than a bank, ID thief tells Congress"NBC News Investigative Unit, April 12, 2007.
  • Picture of a fire hazard.Include images. Images work against boredom. Long pages of uninterrupted text can intimidate learners. Would you rather read a newspaper page without a single image, or one with a picture or photograph that accompanies the text?

    Brain scans of people viewing images that contain text and images without text show that the brain is more active when processing images that include text. When images include dialog or text, the brain must figure out how the image and text relate.

    Humorous images that fit in with an organization's culture can convey a point more effectively than narrative text. The cartoon shown here would work well in some, but not all, organizations.

    Images should be chosen with care so that they are not offensive to the audience, unrelated to the text or message, misleading, or ambiguous.

Use these techniques to make your eLearning content interesting and memorable. For more information, contact us.

Article by K Rudolph, CISSP © 2007 Native Intelligence, Inc.  All rights reserved.