Tag: scenario-based learning

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.

 

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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How to Start Creating Conversation-Driven eLearning

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.

Conversation-Driven eLearning

Advantages

  • 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.

Example

For an example of a conversation-driven course with two characters, check out my post on a Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course.

Coming Next

In the next post, I’ll provide more details on how to build the conversation and multimedia.

References

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/

ID and E-Learning Links (1/29/17)

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

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

Scenario-Based Learning in Higher Ed

A reader asked a great question about the role of scenario-based learning in higher education. I’ve seen a number of good examples of storytelling and scenarios in university courses.

Authentic Assessment

My first ID job was with an online university targeting nontraditional students. They focused on “authentic assessment”; Rather than traditional academic essays and exams, we used simulated work products for assessment. After all, if you’re getting a marketing degree, what’s more valuable–knowing how to write an essay or how to create a PowerPoint presentation? Those assignments used a scenario to provide context for the work students were doing. In some courses, all the written assignments had a single related scenario threaded through the whole course.

For example, in this social psychology course, students were placed in the role of Director of Operations. Through the course, they helped various departments and teams address specific challenges related to a concept of social psychology. Here’s one of the assignments for that course. Instead of writing an essay on cognitive dissonance, students wrote an article for an internal newsletter. While it’s not completely realistic, it does help connect

You’ve been asked by the Marketing Department to give them feedback from your customer service area about customer complaints and issues concerning their new product – an “All-In-One” coffee maker, toaster oven, and microwave.

Although your department has collected specific information concerning likes and dislikes of customers (as called in on your customer service toll-free number), you recognize that many of these calls could be reduced in time – or eliminated – if you helped the marketing department understand the concept called “Cognitive Dissonance.”

You’ve been asked to provide this feedback as an article for their departmental Weekly Update, and you busily begin this project. In your article for the Marketing Department, be sure to include the following information:

  • In one paragraph, provide an overview of what you’ve been asked to do.
  • Next, define the term “Cognitive Dissonance” and explain how it relates to customer purchases. (In business, cognitive dissonance is often referred to as “Buyer’s Remorse.”)
  • Provide two or three customer examples of how Cognitive Dissonance affects customers and the types of reactions they have to your product.
  • Finally, suggest some changes that can be made to the marketing materials to help reduce this effect on your customers and create and maintain long-term customer loyalty.

Branching Scenarios

I have done some limited branching scenarios for higher ed courses, similar to what I do for corporate learning. One example was a course on how to teach online where students practiced handling student objections. The student reacts differently depending on how the instructor responds to their complaint.

Angry student expression and happy student expression

Scenario-Based Discussion Questions

Short scenarios can make for more valuable discussion questions. Give students a scenario (or a few to choose from) and ask them how they’d respond. Scenario prompts for discussions often generate deeper conversations than simple questions. Providing a choice of multiple scenarios makes the discussion less repetitive (a plus for grading as well as for students).

Group Activities

I’ve used scenarios with group work too. For example, in one of my older courses for teachers, each group had a different scenario problem to solve related to privacy and social media. One scenario involved high school Spanish students who posted videos of their work on YouTube but received a rude comment. Another scenario involved middle school students who received a request from a teacher in another state to use part of a presentation they posted online. Each group worked together to create a plan of how to respond to the scenario. Scenarios like this can work especially well if your audience has different goals or needs. High school teachers can be grouped together for a high school scenario, while elementary teachers are grouped together for a separate scenario. In a business course, you might have different scenarios for managers and non-managers.

Student-Created Stories

One really interesting idea was having students write stories themselves. This was used in a course on psychological development over a lifetime. Each week of the course focused on a different time of life, starting from before birth and continuing through aging and death. Every week, the students wrote part of a profile of an imaginary person for that development time, explaining how different factors affected their development (e.g., if their person’s mother drank while pregnant, that affected brain development; if the child had poor nutrition, that affected development). A number of the students resisted that assignment, which really pushed them out of their comfort zones. They said they “weren’t creative writers” or didn’t know how to tell stories. By the end of the course, the feedback was very positive though.

Tell me your story

Tell me your own story. Have you seen storytelling used in higher education? Do you have a great example of using technology for digital storytelling, or even of a low-tech story in a classroom? Let me know in the comments.

 

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