Do You Need a Villain in a Learning Story?

I recently attended an interesting webinar by Joe Ganci on how to use science fiction to improve eLearning. In the presentation, Joe talked about elements of storytelling common to science fiction and how to incorporate those aspects for better stories in elearning. If you’re attending the Learning Solutions Conference later this month, you can hear this presentation live. (You can attend my presentation on voice over script pitfalls too!)

One of Joe’s points was that great science fiction stories have a compelling villain that allows the heroes to be heroic. The same goes for storytelling for learning. Even if the major conflict is a tight budget or short timeline, Joe argued it’s better to personify that challenge. Provide a manager who explains the budget limitations or a harried customer who needs an project finished quickly.

To some extent, I agree with Joe. Instead of simply an abstract challenge of time or resources, you can humanize it by showing why the budget is tight or how being late will impact a real person. Stories help you make learning more concrete.

Bearded businessman with evil expression

However, I’m not quite convinced that a “villain” is what we need in learning. In the real world, the bad guys and good guys aren’t always so clear cut as in the movies. Real people are rarely motivated by simply being evil. They may be confused, misguided, angry, or disorganized. That doesn’t exactly make them a villain though.

I’m worried that forcing a villain into a story might make it too over-the-top or comical. That can work if that’s what you’re going for, but I think that’s challenging to pull off well in most corporate environments.

Maybe my problem is with the word “villain.” If we call that character an “antagonist” instead, then it works well. The antagonist doesn’t have to be evil like a villain; they just have to create the conflict or challenge that drives the story. I think that’s really what Joe is getting at. The harried manager telling you the budget is tight isn’t really an evil villain, just someone doing their job in a way that creates a challenge for the learners.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to include villains in learning stories? I am ambivalent and looking for your perspectives. Answer the poll and let me know. (Email readers, you may have to click through to the site to respond to the poll.)

If the none of the answers in the poll fit, or you want to explain more, leave a comment and tell me what you think.

 

Media Options for Conversation-Driven eLearning

Rather than delivering eLearning content as a lecture, you can explain it through conversations. While more resource-intensive multimedia may be desired, you have a range of options with this technique. It’s possible to use conversations even with a low budget. In the past, I’ve created conversation-driven eLearning with video, animation, and photos.

Video

You can use video to introduce the characters and the challenge they’re facing. Video is especially helpful for courses where non-verbal communication is critical to understanding. With good actors and production quality, this gives your course the feel of a TV show intro. The next time you’re watching TV, pay attention to how the conflict of the story is introduced via a short segment before the title sequence.

My Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course for Cine Learning Productions used this technique with a video introduction. After the initial video, we used cutout still photos of the same actors. This requires a custom photo shoot, but it’s much cheaper than using video for the entire course.

Animation

As an alternative to video, you can use illustrated characters with animation. I use full animation only for the intro and closing, similar to how I use video to set up the story in the course described above. After the intro, use stills of the same characters. The animation can be engaging to “hook” learners at the beginning, but it may become distracting once you’re delivering content.

We used animated characters for this professional development course for teachers. In the intro and closing (plus a few transitions between sections), the characters were the focus of the image. During most of the content delivery, the voice over continued as a conversation between the two characters, but the visuals supported the content rather than the characters.

Animated course with closed captions

Photos or Illustrations

If your budget doesn’t allow for custom video or animation, character photos or illustrations can certainly work. I would generally opt for photos from a library like eLearning Art over illustrations, but it depends on your audience.

If using more intensive multimedia will subtract from the resources to create more realistic practice exercises or other valuable learning experiences, you should cut the complexity of the media. Cathy Moore asks “What’s the real cost of eye candy?” Video and animation can be “eye candy” rather than adding value. Think about the trade off for media.

Voice Over…Or Not

While I find voice over to be beneficial, you can do a read-only version. Try a comic book or graphic novel style with conversation bubbles. I created this brief example with photos and conversation bubbles debunking the learning styles myth. This was created in PowerPoint; no rapid development tools were needed. Even on a low budget, you can immerse learners in a conversation rather than a didactic presentation.

Conversation between two employees

Want More?

Image credits: Graphic Stock (unlimited downloads $99/year), eLearning Brothers

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ID and E-Learning Links (2/26/17)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design & E-Learning Links

ID and E-Learning Links (2/19/17)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

Writing Conversations for eLearning

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.

Writing Conversations for eLearning

Learner Challenge

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.

Mentor Questions

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.

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