In the previous post, How to Start Creating Conversation-Driven eLearning, I described how I use conversations between two characters to deliver eLearning content. In this post, I’ll explain how to write and structure the conversation. My next post will discuss options for multimedia with conversation-driven elearning.
In the introduction of the story, show how the learner is facing a challenge. That problem is one that can be addressed through your training. Maybe your character has been dealing with an angry customer, students that are disengaged in class, or a project that is behind schedule. Your character needs new skills: how to respond to customer objections, how to motivate students, or how to get a slipping project back on track. This character is facing a moment of need. If your audience faces a similar challenge, they can immediately see that this training is relevant because they want to solve this problem too. Your character seeks help from a mentor.
In my conversation-driven coaching and mentoring course, the main character, Michael, is a newly promoted manager. He struggles to coach one of his employees on how to handle a difficult client. You can see the moment of need, and hopefully learners can identify with the struggle. (Email readers, if no video appears below, try watching it on YouTube.)
If you want to see the rest of this course, you can purchase it from Cine Learning Productions, who graciously granted permission for me to use this video.
Don’t Make the Learner Dumb
One temptation with this style is making the learning character an empty vessel with no prior experience or knowledge. The mentor explains something, and the learner simply nods along, basking in the superior knowledge. If you do that, you might as well write it with a single traditional narrator. Instead, treat your learning character (and your learners) as adults with prior knowledge and experience. Let your character figure some things out and make intelligent guesses.
Just like a good teacher or trainer, the mentor character can ask questions of the learner character to draw out information. The answers can be wrong sometimes, just like in real life, but they should be reasonable guesses that your audience might make. Asking and answering questions also helps with the next point.
Don’t Talk Too Long
Don’t let your mentor lecture for multiple paragraphs at a time. Neither person should have a monologue. Listen to conversations where someone is explaining something. The person learning interjects regularly with questions or affirmations of understanding. Add dialogue to show your learner is actively listening to the mentor. Have the learner reflect back what they heard from the mentor and connect it to something they already know or share an example.
Skepticism is Good
Does your audience automatically buy into everything you’re training on the first try? Maybe, but often they are skeptical or resist. Let your learner character be a little skeptical too. The character can voice some of the objections your learners might have, allowing the mentor to address those objections. Over the course of the training, your learner character will become less skeptical. You may be able to get skeptical audience members to feel less resistant as they see the change in the character.
Here’s an example from a conversation between two doctors discussing the treatment of addiction.
Tom: How many of our patients do you think have problems with alcohol or drugs? It can’t be that large of a number.
Deborah: I’ve seen estimates that the lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorders is about 30 percent of the total population.
Tom: Thirty percent?!? That can’t be right.
Deborah: It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I couldn’t believe it either. That includes both abuse and dependence though.
Tom: I never would have guessed it was so high.
[A little later in the conversation, after a few more statistics on the impact of addition]
Tom: Wow, I didn’t realize what a significant issue this is. I must treat patients all the time who are dealing with addiction without even knowing it.
Deborah: That’s probably true.
Tom: But is this really something we should be dealing with as primary care physicians? Aren’t counselors and specialists really better equipped to handle these issues?
Deborah: We should refer patients to specialists when they need extra help. We need to address it here first though. We’re still the people our patients see the most. It’s even more important that we do so now with the Affordable Care Act.
Tom: Why does that matter?
What Else Do You Need?
I’ve heard from several readers already that this technique is one they can apply to their projects. If you’re thinking about trying this strategy, what else do you need to get started? Ask your questions or tell me what else you want to know in the comments.
Several studies have found learners can remember information in a narrative format better than bullet points (for example, Glonek & King, as cited in Kapp, 2014). One strategy for creating a narrative is delivering content with two narrators having a conversation rather than the traditional approach of a single narrator lecturing. Instead of one voice acting as an instructor, this approach lets learners listen in on two characters who are talking about it.
- Less tiring to listen to: Let’s face it: Voice over, even good voice over, can be tiring to listen to for long periods of time. It’s more engaging to listen to the back and forth of two voices. Think about morning radio shows. Most shows have two or three people talking rather than one. If it is one person talking, they usually have interviews or guests to break up the monotony of a single voice.
- Easier to write conversationally: You probably already know that a conversational tone is better for elearning. It can be challenging to write a single narrator delivering content in a conversational style though. On the other hand, if you write dialog, you’ll naturally stay away from bullet point lists.
Who are your characters?
One Mentor, One Learner
In a two-narrator course, one character is the mentor, and one is the learner. You need some difference in the knowledge and experience level between the characters in order to drive the conversation. You’re still doing some instruction, after all, just in a different format.
This strategy is used in television and film to deliver content. NCIS, for example, always has one character on the team who is new to the agency. That allows the script writers to deliver expository information in dialog between an experienced agent and a new one. The same approach is used when a more technical forensics expert or coroner explains something to a less technical agent. Watch any crime procedural and you’ll see this technique in use.
Reflect Typical Learners
The job or role of the learners should be similar to your learners. Who is your audience? What experience and background do they have? What are their concerns? What obstacles to they face? Who is a typical learner? Your less experienced character should reflect your typical learner. At the beginning of the course, your character lacks the same knowledge and skills as your audience. This helps learners identify with the character. During the course, your character follows a similar path as the one you want your audience to take. The learners are on a parallel path, shadowing your character as he or she learns.
Mentor as Manager or Leader
Who are the mentors for your audience? In their jobs, who do they learn from? Is it a manager or a more experienced person in the same role? Figure out who would explain this information if it happened as part of on-the-job training. That’s the role for your mentor character.
Gender and Diversity
Unless your audience is overwhelmingly male or female, generally one character should be male and one female. That makes it easier to distinguish the voices, plus it provides equal gender representation. If you create multiple courses or modules with this technique, aim for 50% of the modules showing a female mentor or manager.
Be aware of racial, ethnic, and other characteristics of diversity as well. Representing people of color in leadership roles can help challenge stereotypes.
For an example of a conversation-driven course with two characters, check out my post on a Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course.
In the next post, I’ll provide more details on how to build the conversation and multimedia.
Kapp, K. (2014, December 24). Abstract of a Study Related to Storytelling. [Blog post.] Retrieved from http://karlkapp.com/abstracts-of-study-related-to-storytelling/
If your New Year’s Resolution is to read more books, you’ve found the right post. This is a compilation and update of my previous book list and review posts.
Design For How People Learn by Julie Dirksen is one of my favorite books in the field. I’ve recommended it many times. It’s easy to read and understand. It makes research about learning accessible in ways you can apply immediately. The illustrations are charming and reinforce the concepts well. Read my review for more details.
The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean is especially good for career changers and those who landed in instructional design from other fields. It provides a model for the range of skills that fall under the umbrella of “instructional design.” It includes practical tips on topics such as working with SMEs and avoiding “clicky clicky bling bling” or flashy interactivity and multimedia for the sake of being flashy. The design models in chapter 4 are probably familiar to many with experience in the field but very helpful to beginners who want to do more than just the same type of course and interaction for every situation.
Training Design Basics by Saul Carliner is a perfect book for people just getting started in the field, especially those who are current students or are switching to instructional design or training from another career. Read my full review about this practical book.
Performance-Focused Smile Sheets by Will Thalheimer explains why most of our training evaluations don’t provide useful data and explains how to fix it. Read my review of Performance-Focused Smile Sheets.
First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instruction is David Merrill’s effort to distill the common principles from multiple instructional design theories. A shorter, earlier explanation of these principles is available as a free PDF.
ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design by Chuck Hodell was suggested by Phrodeo, who is using it as a textbook in a course she’s taking.
Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning was recommended by another student, Alisa, who says “I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.”
Design Alchemy: Author Roderick Sims suggested that I include “texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design” such as his own book.
Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design: Miriam Larson suggested her book, co-authored with Barbara Lockee. This book was positively reviewed in Education Review.
eLearning and Blended Learning
e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer is one of the first books on e-learning I bought, and I still refer to it when I need evidence to justify decisions to clients. If you’ve ever wondered if formal or conversational style is better for learning (conversational) or if your on-screen text should replicate what’s on the screen (no, it shouldn’t), this book explains it with the research to back it up. It’s not perfect; the authors do sometimes disregard research that contradicts their own findings, and they sometimes make their principles seem more absolute than they probably are in real life. However, it’s still a solid reference.
Designing Successful e-Learning by Michael Allen tells you to “Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting.” All of Allen’s books are focused on helping people design e-learning that is interactive, engaging, and useful.
Although I have several of Michael Allen’s books, I haven’t read Leaving ADDIE for SAM yet. Several people recommended that (including some who said they wished their organizations would pay more attention to it and move to a more agile approach).
William Horton’s e-Learning by Design is Nahla Anwer Aly’s favorite book in the field. I read it a number of years ago. Although I don’t refer back to it as often as some of my other books, it’s a strong selection, especially for those early in their careers.
Patti Shank’s The Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 1 and Volume Two: Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning have lots of inspiration. Even though it was published in 2007, I still pull out the first volume sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas.
Learning and Psychology Research
Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is geared more towards teachers and professors or those interested in the psychology of how we learn rather than specifically aimed at instructional designers. The authors have done an amazing job of reviewing, summarizing, and organizing dozens of studies about how we learn. As instructional designers, we often work hard to make learning easier, but the research shows that “desirable difficulties” can actually increase learning. I do wish the book had some visuals to help explain the concepts. As an instructional designer, especially one who develops self-paced e-learning, you’ll need to reflect on your own about how to apply these ideas to your work. Most of the examples are from classrooms, either academic or corporate.
Urban Myths about Learning and Education was positively reviewed by Will Thalheimer. My one caution with this book is that Paul Kirschner is one of the authors, and he has shown some (in my opinion) irrational bias against discovery learning, project-based learning, and constructivism in the past. Based on Thalheimer’s review, it sounds like Kirschner is more nuanced in this book, noting situations where the methods he previously labeled as “failures” do, in fact, have benefits. (For a balanced review of Kirschner’s previous attack piece on constructivism, see Don Clark’s review five years after its publication.)
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is about growth and fixed mindsets and how the way we praise people affects their success. This book would be especially of value to teachers and those working in higher education.
John Medina’s Brain Rules was recommended by one of my readers, and I’ve heard these principles mentioned by a number of others in the field. I’m a little cautious about neuroscience claims; I’m not sure that the research is as solid as it is sometimes conveyed. However, I know many people have gotten excited about Medina’s work.
Daniel Pink’s Drive explains three principles of motivation that go deeper than just rewards and punishments: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More money won’t always motivate behavior change (in fact, sometimes it might be counterproductive). Helping people improve their skills can be even more motivating, and that’s certainly part of what we should be doing as instructional designers.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is about why some stories and ideas are memorable while others aren’t. Robert Beck says, “Its principles are ones that I often turn to for reminders of how to make learning more compelling and memorable.”
Connie Malamed’s Visual Design Solutions is great for all of those of us who need to communicate visually in our e-learning but lack the formal training on how to do so. Unlike a lot of visual design books out there, this is focused specifically on visual design for learning. Read my full review of Visual Design Solutions.
Connie’s previous book, Visual Language for Designers, was helpful to me in learning about the fundamentals of visual design.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman isn’t a visual design book, but a user design book about the psychology of how we interact with objects. This book is a frequent recommendation for IDs interested in improving the usability of their courses.
Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It was recommended by Mike Taylor, who also recommended the next selection.
Dana and Jim Robinson’s Performance Consulting was also recommended. Mike says neither of these books is very recent, but they have remained relevant.
Games and Scenario-Based Learning
The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp explains how to do more with gamification than just badges and points. Karl summarizes research and game theory and explains how substantive elements of games like narrative can be used to improve learning design. I wrote more about this gamification research previously.
Scenario-based e-Learning by Ruth Clark is similar to eLearning and the Science of Instruction in that it summarizes research findings. This book is specifically focused on developing scenario-based e-learning, including everything from simple branching scenarios to complex simulations.
Now updated to E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 9, which I’m sure is just as good as the last edition. E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 8 by Diane Elkins, Desiree Pinder, and Tim Slade sat on my desk for multiple weeks because I used it so often that it wasn’t worth bothering to put it back on the shelf. This book was an immense help to me in learning Captivate 8. I’m sure their other books on Storyline 2, Lectora, etc. are equally valuable.
Joel Gendelman’s Consulting Basics was a critical resource for me when I made the leap from being an employee to being a freelance instructional designer. I regularly recommend this book to people who are just getting started in the freelance world or hoping to make the switch. The tips are very practical and concrete, and my own consulting agreements borrow heavily from the examples provided in this book. This book is focused on freelance training and training design work.
Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting is currently in my to-read stack. This was recommended as a resource for treating consulting as a business and building better relationships with my clients.
Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt is aimed more at online instructors than instructional designers, but it’s a wonderful resource for IDs working in higher education or supporting online and blended learning communities.
Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith is about how technology can enable communities of practice. You can now download the ebook for free.
Learning Everywhere by Chad Udell is a fantastic resource on mobile learning, providing everything from a big picture view of broad categories of mobile learning to specific technical considerations and pitfalls. You can read my review of the book for more details.
Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth is full of visuals and explains how to “show your work” by sharing what you’re doing and learning using social tools. The book explains the benefits of creating a culture where people share their processes and discoveries.
The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains how to make information easier to understand. This was suggested by Luis Flores, who says, “As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable.”
TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks was also recommended by Robert Beck. He says, “If IDs keep in mind the elements of a powerful story and how to deliver a spellbinding presentation to an audience, they’ll likely design an effective training product.”
The Essential Persona Lifecycle by Adlin and Pruitt was recommended by Ieva Swanson. I have seen examples of personas used effectively for different projects, including creating a learning portal. This isn’t an area I personally know much about, but I can see the value in exploring it further.
Did I miss one of your favorite books? Leave a comment with your suggestions.
Image: Colorful Stack of Books in Library from GraphicStock.com
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