The good news is that words matter.
If you think by that I mean, “words?! pah! who cares about words?!”, then you didn’t read the sentence properly. Or you think I’m being sarcastic. Context will tell you if you’re right – context given by your knowledge of me as a person, and your knowledge of other things I’ve written. But absent those, the words mean what they say. They may be factually incorrect – maybe words don’t matter – but the sentence means what it says.
It’s commonly believed that 7% of communication is verbal; the rest is body language and tone of voice. Along with many people, I took that for granted, even though it made no intuitive sense to me, especially when thinking about learning live online.
But if you didn’t know already, the 7% is a myth; or rather, it’s a fact that’s only true in certain cases.
The original researcher, Professor Albert Mehrabian, looked at situations in which people say one thing and mean something else in a face to face situation. According to Mehrabian, the 7% holds true only when talking about feelings and attitudes. In those cases if you say one thing but indicate something else with your tone and gesture, the something else (the non-verbal 93%) will dominate the substance your communication. So the statistic seems to only matter if the non-verbal and verbal are in conflict. (See Training Zone, especially the video by Martin Shovel, shown also below).
However, this still rings true online if a facilitator says, “hey, like, yeh, this is going to be, like, yaaaawn, really fun … let’s do some really engaging interactive stuff on a whiteboard now, yaaawn”. It’s obvious, now that I think about it, that it’s the dissonance between the mode and content of speech that makes us largely ignore the content. Equally obvious is that words matter when mode and content are consistent: “You are, in fact, an idiot.”
The 7% is (mis)used to make an important point, however: Yes, words matter, but words are not always a necessary, adequate, or even feasible way to communicate. Especially when communicating feelings and attitudes.
So, here’s the question: how are feelings and attitudes communicated online, in a virtual classroom setting? What’s the real data about the relative power of mode or content in live, online communication?
And how do you show your feelings online, in an online classroom? Come on, you can tell me.