The simple messages at the heart of learning. The benefits of avoiding complexity.

Good ideas can easily become bad ones. Simple messages easily get waterlogged by complexity. Our role in the design and delivery of learning solutions is partly to inject enough energy and momentum to get a project moving, and partly to wield the pruning shears and keep the focus clear and simple. It’s the role of a Director and the role of an Editor, all rolled into one.

We learn in stories, sharing ideas, narratives and frames of reference. These stories are often incremental, building on foundations and working towards more complex pictures. The question is: how much complexity do we build in along the way?

Lets call the things that make stories complex ‘confounding narratives’.

We know what story we want to tell, we have it all mapped out, but when the time comes to tell it, confounding narratives creep in. They are sub plots, twists and turns, in a Bond film, they would be the unexpected trip to Monte Carlo. They are created and driven by other agendas and they make our story complex. But they may not be relevant to what we want to say.

Learning narratives often fall victim to confounding narratives. There is sometimes a desire to try and cram lots of additional information into a solution. It’s like we open up the floodgates.

I think that often this is because there aren’t all that many effective open channels of communication to use, and once we establish one for one purpose, other messages try to use it, but the overall effect is one of increased complexity and decreased clarity. It can be well intentioned, but ultimately counter productive.

Our task is to work through the story, developing it, but maintaining an ability to keep it clear and simple. Part of this can be achieved by constantly reviewing back against our core objectives. Simply reading out what we are writing can help here, as can effective storyboarding.

For example, many projects take place against a background of change. There is no need for us to revisit the reasons for that change within every story. It’s already there, it’s been covered before. Trying to use every channel of communication to strengthen the change message can be counter productive: it’s like the adverts in a tv show, you just turn off if you see it too many times.

Stories benefit from simplicity and clarity. Keeping it simple may not always be easy, but it’s always worth the effort.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Change, Complexity, Effectiveness, Learning Design, Meaning, Momentum, Narrative, Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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