Yesterday i completed the first draft of my new book, ‘mindset for mobile learning’. I’d seen the finish line coming for some time, because the very first thing i did when i started it was to map out the whole structure. From day one i was working within a document with thirty or so section headers, just populating them as i went. This helped me in two ways: firstly, the narrative was fixed, ensuring that i didn’t drift too far off track (something i frequently do, in case you hadn’t noticed…) and secondly it gave me achievable bites to take at the apple, helping me to maintain momentum.
We can view the narrative as the conversation, the structure of our discussion. As the book is intended to present a coherent narrative of the subject, it needs some structure. Personally, i find that for a longer piece of writing or work, i need to formalise that before i start writing. With the blog, or a magazine article, i don’t need to: i just jump in, but for a longer piece, if i don’t have the structure mapped, i can become muddled in my arguments, forming an incoherent or incomplete narrative.
It’s an important step in any learning design: to decide upon our core narrative. For any subject, be it compliance training or focussing on building a particular skill, we could take a number of different approaches, different narratives. There are many ways to tackle a single subject, but we need to decide on the best and then create our structure accordingly.
So, for me, narrative is about a coherent structure, a complete story.
Dialogue is the conversation that takes place around that narrative: it’s the actual scripts, text, images, words and music that we hear. The narrative gives us structure, the dialogue is our voice.
Writing the dialogue is often the fun part of learning design: creating animations, shooting video, recording audio, it’s the action part. But if we don’t spend time on defining the narrative first, we run the risk of being busy, being creative, being dynamic, but, ultimately, being ineffective. A strong narrative is essential in a good story: a rambling one, whilst it may be interesting, will likely result in attrition along the way as learners get lost and drop out.
I find that there is value in ensuring we know who owns the narrative within a project: as with creativity, it won’t just happen by itself, it needs to be driven, it needs to be owned. Dialogue we can farm out, narrative we need to keep close to, to avoid simply creating a collection of disjointed episodes.
It’s worth thinking about these things sometimes, understanding our own creative processes and how we enhance them and keep them in check. I know personally that, without spending time on the core narrative, i become unstructured, my arguments ramble (more than usual) and i end up not covering key areas.
A good book has a clear narrative and great dialogue. So should our learning solutions.