The sum of the parts: ensuring the coherence of the narrative in learning

There’s an odd dichotomy in learning: we experience both the whole and the parts. Each element of the learning, be it a discussion, a video, animation or text, illustration or podcast, each of these things we take in isolation: it makes sense, it challenges us, it provokes us, but the effectiveness of the piece is experienced as a whole. How are you different at the end of it?

Sometimes i describe this as internal and external coherence. Take a piece of video: it has characters, maybe a guide, backdrops, scenery, props, lighting, sound. All these things need to come together around the core element of ‘story’. In isolation, the video needs a coherent story. Call this the internal coherence. But it doesn’t sit in isolation, it sits alongside a model, which also needs internal coherence. And maybe an interactive exercise which needs the same. Any of these elements will be experienced in isolation, so they need internal coherence to make sense.

But they are also experienced as a whole: your whole experience of the learning. It’s like going to Disneyland. You experience car parking, buying tickets, queueing, going to the toilet, buying a coffee and, maybe, going on a ride or two. Each of these things have their own discrete coherence: you even have an ‘experience’ of queueing. If all of these things come together, you have a great experience. If just one of them goes wrong, your overall experience becomes fragmented, less valuable. The joining up of the experience is the external coherence.

Within learning, we have a central narrative, one which should, ideally, draw together and expand upon the individual internal narratives. The video should complement the models, which should in turn complement other models and sit alongside the podcasts and have coherence with the discussions in the semi formal social learning spaces as well. And our moderation of those social learning spaces should be done in a way that is consistent with our tone of voice in the video, closing the circle.

When we are producing a project, it’s easy for different specialists to focus on their region, so you end up with great video, great animations, great podcasts and great roleplays in seminars. But it’s easy to get the internal coherence right for the elements, but to miss the overall coherence of the experience and missing this devalues the effectiveness of the learning.

This can be affected by small things or things that we feel fall outside our control. Mobile learning is great, but if your organisational wifi is dreadful, if it takes forty minutes to download a podcast, the external coherence, the continuity of my narrative is ruined. If the training room is too small, if it smells, if it has no windows, these things all affect the coherence and quality of the experience.

And it can be hard to spot this: the individual elements can be great, but who is owning the external coherence, who owns the central narrative? Who is responsible for bringing the whole piece together? It’s easy to be busy, easy to create individual elements, but who sits in the role of the ringmaster bringing it all together into a coherent story?

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Challenge, Continuity, Design, E-Learning, Effectiveness, External Coherence, Informal Spaces, Instructional Design, Integrity, Internal Coherence, Learning, Learning Design, Stories, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The sum of the parts: ensuring the coherence of the narrative in learning

  1. Pingback: The sum of the parts: ensuring the coherence of the narrative in learning | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog | Narrative: Some Issues and Examples |

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