Tag: writing

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.

 

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Consider 4 Cs in Scenario-Based Learning

When I create scenarios for learning, I keep these four elements in mind: characters, context, challenge, and consequences.

Characters

4 Cs of Scenarios: Characters, Context, Challenge, and Consequences

The main character of your scenario who drives the action should generally be someone similar to your learners. Even if the main character isn’t named and the scenario is in second person (What do you do next?), the role of that character should be familiar to your learners. Give your main character a goal that aligns to the learning objectives and that your learners share.

The other people your main character interacts with should be typical and mostly realistic, with perhaps a little exaggeration. If you’re doing customer service training, think about the different types of customers employees interact with. If you’re creating manager training, the other characters might be employees and coworkers.

Context

The context is the background for the situation. This is often implied by the training, especially if the scenario is part of a larger course. The context isn’t just shared with words. When you add a photo background for a scenario, you show learners the context rather than telling them. Your learners’ work environment should match this context. It’s easier to transfer learning to a similar situation than one that’s radically different.

A hospital room on the left; comfy chairs in a corporate lobby on the right
These two backgrounds provide very different contexts for scenarios.

Challenge

Your characters face challenges in the scenario. Those are the points where learners have to make a decision or take an action. The challenges are where the learning happens. Think about the frequent obstacles: faulty technology, impatient customers, or a limited budget. Common mistakes are good challenges to include. If sales associates often forget to provide a recommendation at a specific point in the sales process, include that point in the scenario. Give learners a choice to make a recommendation or not. You might also include challenges that happen less often but are critical to address correctly. Sales associates won’t often have to deal with a customer so angry that they threaten violence, but it’s important to know how to handle that volatile situation.

Consequences

Especially in branching scenarios, the feedback should be part of the scenario rather than something you just tell them. A customer gets angry, a patient refuses to follow your recommendations, the technology continues to malfunction, or you run out of budget two months before your project is finished. Show learners the consequences of their mistakes rather than just telling them. You might also provide coaching or instructional feedback, especially for novice learners, but don’t neglect the consequences of their actions.

While this isn’t a complete list of everything you need for scenarios, these are elements I see people omit or downplay. Which of these four elements do you find most challenging to incorporate into your scenarios?

More Reading

Interested in reading more? Check out all my posts on storytelling and scenarios.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants who have shared their ideas before us. My list of the 4Cs overlaps with concepts in Michael Allen’s CCAF (Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback) model. I do prefer Consequences to Feedback, as designers too often assume feedback is only verbal (although Allen explains otherwise in his great books). While I didn’t have Tom Kuhlmann’s 2009 post in mind when I wrote this, I came across it again recently. I’m sure I did read this many years ago when it was first written, and I suspect his “Challenge-Choice-Consequence” model was somewhere in my subconscious as well.

This is post number 1000 on my blog! Thanks for reading!

Vary Sentence Structure in Voice Over Scripts

When you use voice over for elearning, do you want it to sound natural and flowing, or do you want it to sound stiff and didactic? A great voice over person can make a good script more engaging, and a great script sound fantastic. However, if the script itself is completely stiff and unnatural, there’s only so much a voice over person can do.

One common problem in writing for voice over is overly complex sentences. Extremely long sentences, especially without pauses for breath, are hard to read aloud. Even sentences that are appropriate and effective for reading online may feel clunky in narration. Content from SMEs often includes sentences which are too long and complex for voice over. You may need to break up or rewrite sentences to make them flow better.

Vary Sentence Structure in Voice Over Scripts

Rewriting Complicated Sentences

For example, take this sentence on reasonable accommodations for disabilities. Try to read it aloud yourself.

Original: “The employer’s obligation under title I is to provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job, including access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.”

That wasn’t written for voice over, but it’s not that far off from content I’ve seen in voice over scripts in the past. This sentence is 57 words long. That makes it long enough to be challenging to read aloud. It’s also so long and complicated that it’s hard to understand as a listener.

The first step I’d take to rewrite this is breaking it up into two sentences after “his/her job.”

Rewrite step 1: The employer’s obligation under title I is to provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job. This includes access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.

The first sentence is still 38 words, but just breaking it up is an improvement. To flow better, I’d rewrite and restructure it further. This is 51 words total, so a little shorter than the original.

Rewrite step 2:  Employers are obligated under title I to provide access for individuals to participate in the job application process and for employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. This includes access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.

Of course, this could even be rewritten further to be more conversational. Although this is 53 words total, it’s now four sentences instead of one.

Rewrite step 3: What are your obligations as an employer under title I? First, provide access for everyone to participate in your job application process. Second, support employees with disabilities so they can perform the essential functions of their jobs. This includes access to buildings, work sites, needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.

Not Just Simple Sentences

However, you can take it too far. In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, someone argued that scripts should be rewritten to “short, simple sentences.” You might think that simpler is always better. Too many simple, short sentences can sound choppy and unnatural though.

I can use simple sentences. I use a noun, verb, and object. I do not use dependent clauses. I sound like a robot. This is boring and repetitive.

When I say “simple sentences,” I use that phrase here with linguistic precision. A simple sentence has a single clause; that means no compound or complex sentences. If you use only simple sentences, then you can never use an “if-then” statement. You can’t add more variety, and you can’t sound natural without compound sentences. Being concise doesn’t have to restrict your grammar. A 60-word sentence (especially one without any place to breathe) doesn’t belong in a voice over script, but coordinating conjunctions certainly do.

Variety in Sentence Structure and Length

When we talk, we naturally use a variety of sentence structures and lengths. If you want your scripts to sound conversational, use a combination of short and reasonably long sentences. Watch out for sentences that are too long and convoluted, but don’t be afraid to use compound and complex sentences that flow well.

Further Reading

Interested in learning more about voice over scripts?

Save