What do the North Pole, Japan’s high-speed train, and practical jokes all have in common?
They have all been featured in episodes of BBC’s Top Gear, which has become the world’s most widely viewed “factual” program in the world. I put factual in quotes just in case anyone reading this has ever seen an episode of Top Gear. As far as words that describe Top Gear go, I would put hilarious, interesting, exciting, often irreverent, and sometimes offensive before I would mention factual. That being said, they do a fantastic job at winning and retaining “students”.
So I started thinking about what makes them great and what creators of online courses could learn from BBC’s Top Gear. At first I thought, “It’s because they get to drive awesome cars.” But then why hasn’t the US Top Gear been as successful? So as I thought more about it, I came up with seven characteristics that make it awesome, all of which can be used by creators of online learning content to make their courses better.
1. Charismatic Presenters
Lots can be said about the presenters in Top Gear, but this is what I think makes them great:
- You can tell they truly love and are passionate about their subject, which is cars
- They are gifted presenters in that they appear to be speaking from the heart and not queue cards
- They are able to play off their co-presenters. You can tell there is a deep respect between the three, coupled with boyish immature tendencies, (which puts the audience at ease and elicits laughs).
- They each have their own style and are able to be themselves
- They’re not afraid to be vulnerable, meaning they show their human side - both when things go their way and when they don’t, (especially Hammond)
Now I realize that not everyone is naturally charismatic like these three gentleman (meaning boys in adult bodies), but as long as you are authentic and show your passion you should be okay. That being said, “voice actors” is a profession for a reason. So if you don’t feel like you can do it, pay someone who can.
2. Creative Writing
Although I’m sure there are a lot of unscripted (and even unrehearsed) moments in Top Gear, the preparation, research, and writing is superb and consistent. When they describe a car they make sure to touch on a lot of the same points. Brake horsepower, design, comfort, amenities, size of the boot, (whatever that is), speed from 0 to 60, and so on. The writing is also conversational. It doesn't feel like they are reading from a script. It feels like we’re sitting in the passenger seat, going 110 MPH with them, and having a conversation about how the Porsche 911 feels like happiness on a sunny day mixed with nitroglycerin and a crazy coyote.
Everyone likes a good laugh. Laughing creates a chemical reaction in your brain enhancing the retentive connections in the central cerebral cortex causing you to understand and retain information better. Actually, I just made that up. But I’m sure something like that happens and it causes you to learn better.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are all very humorous, but the coolest thing is that they are all funny in their own way, (and completely different ways). Jeremy is blatantly and belligerently funny. Richard is goofy, (in a good way), and naturally funny. James has a dry humor and often doesn’t realize how funny he’s actually being, (which is only overshadowed by when he tries to be funny).
The point is to learn and stay true to your own form of humor and keep the following in mind:
- Avoid negative or offensive humor
- Don’t try too hard to make a joke
- Keep the concept simple
4. Interesting Topics
If the next title of a Top Gear episode was, “Today we’re learning about the Toyota Aygo,” I bet you wouldn’t get that excited. But that isn’t what Top Gear does. They titled the episode about Toyota Aygos, “Car Football.” Now you have an episode that you won’t want to miss. Top Gear takes their subject, (cars), and creates interesting topics. If the car itself isn’t interesting enough on its own, then they put the car into a situation where it will be interesting. Brilliant. Just because a topic on its own isn’t interesting, doesn’t mean the end product can’t be interesting.
5. Beautiful Visuals
Most people don’t have the time or budget to film in the most exotic places in the world with the best cameras and the most experienced cinematographers. However, with today’s technology we can still use sharp photos, HD video, (even from our phones), incorporate good lighting, and utilize great microphones that don’t break the bank. Even investing a little goes a long way.
6. Understanding of Audience
Top Gear has grown a large and diverse audience. Not because most people are gearheads, (most of us probably aren’t), but because first and foremost they are an entertainment TV show, and most people like to be entertained. You can tell they understand their audience because they highlight the interesting information in exciting or humorous ways. If their audience were serious car enthusiasts they would let James May discuss the science and technology in more depth instead of making fun of him for it.
7. Understanding of Objectives
As I mentioned above, they understand that their main objective isn’t to teach people about cars, it’s to entertain. Cars are merely the springboard into the pool of entertainment. I’m not saying that the main objective of all online courses should be to entertain, what I’m saying is that you need to clearly understand your objectives and how you are going to accomplish those objectives.
8. (Bonus) British Accents
I had to add this bonus point because I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons my wife likes it so much. Though, it could also be Richard Hammond…
These are what I was able to come up with. Can you think of other points that should have made this list? Or, perhaps some things they do that you shouldn’t learn from Top Gear? (Besides assaulting co-workers - you can discuss that on the news sites). Post your comments below and happy creative course crafting!