I’m working on the design of a new e-learning piece today: a fifteen minute module around an element of customer service. This is my favourite place, where everything is up in the air! I’ve got a room with a group of experts and my role is to help us to identify the storyline and capture the structure of the narrative. I need to find the thread that’s relevant to the experts, coherent for the learner, matches the business needs and fits within budget. Also, something that has it’s own identity and doesn’t feel like one more project churned out to the template of the last one.
Our process for finding the story revolves around talking: sharing ideas, making sketches, describing a core narrative and questioning it, then slowly pinning it to the sheet and filling in the detail. Things that are clear to the ‘experts’ may be murkier to the rest of us, whilst things that are relevant to the learner may seem irrelevant to everyone else. We all have our unique needs, only some of which are transparent to the outside world.
Today, as with so many of these things, we will be basing our work on the stories told by our expert. At heart, the oral storytelling tradition informs much of our subsequent learning design. I was presenting at a mobile learning webinar earlier this year and was asked what the most important skill was to develop for mobile learning. I’m not sure that my answer of ‘storytelling’ was what a developer wanted to hear, but it remains true that people can be captivated by a good story, well told, when all the glitch and glamour in the world can leave them cold. A strong, coherent narrative, well told, has to sit at the centre.
One of our key decisions will be how broad or granular to make it: do we give a high level overview of a wide part of the subject, or a deep dive into every facet of just one small part? I think the quality of the story affects which approach we take: you can only do the granular detail if you can make the story compelling. This year i have read a four hundred page book about the history of the AK47 assault riffle, used as a proxy for a discussion around political power through Europe. I read this not because i am particularly interested in assault riffles, but rather because i heard a short clip on the radio and the narrative was compelling. It drew me right into the heart of the story and i had to know more. This is why i read the book about the history of the ordnance survey and a book about salt. Highly granular, very compelling.
It’s often easy and tempting to go down the path of the high level view, but too much of this narrative overview can deliver something that is bland and superficial. You need to understand the high level context, but you also need the detail, indeed, we often find the detail more magnetic.
I always look forward to days like this, because they take me back to the simple fun of finding and telling a great story and then playing with the right words to do that.