Friday, May 18, 2012

Instructional Design and Storytelling, or Instructional Design IN Storytelling

I am a big fan of storytelling.  I'm also a big fan of movies.  I'm also a big fan of video.  Okay, so I'm not going to list all the different media types.  I do love them all.  Put into the hands of experts media can impact human beings in profound ways.

As we craft "instructionally sound" learning experiences aren't we really just acting as authors, and puppet masters, in the telling of a good story?  Even if we do sort of ruin the story with a multiple choice test at the end?

Before embarking on my own journey as an educational technologist I was a television news and commercial producer.  I often reflect on news production as a fabulous model for creating a training delivery channel.  The only problem is that as an instructional designer I would spend 6 weeks to 6 months crafting the story and in broadcast news we would tell many compelling stories every day crafting them a few hours before they were broadcast, or "delivered". I see very little difference between what "we" do and what other related creative industries do.  Well, let me clarify.  I see many differences, but I struggle to understand why we are so different.

Watch this short 5min video of Ken Burns talking about his craft.  Think about it and reflect on the work you do.



So, what did you hear? In 5 mins, what did you learn and what will you remember?

For me, it's that storytelling is manipulation.  This stuck with me because of my prior knowledge. My experience in TV/Video journalism makes this one statement ring true above all the others he made.  Pictures, words, music, interviews, animations, etc., can all be used to make the viewer feel, how YOU want them too.

The storyteller is the puppet master.  He manipulates what you see, and what you don't see. He is defining your experience. He decides ahead of time how you will feel, and what you will believe after experiencing the story.

The instructional designer is also the puppet master.  He manipulates what you see, and what you don't see.  He is defining your experience.  He decides ahead of time what...um...

...objectives will be tested for in the multiple choice quiz at the end.

I've heard from many thought leaders in the industry that videos are not educational, they are not instructionally sound, etc, etc.  I've never argued with them as being wrong, but something in my gut told me there is way more to this story.  It used to be that video was expensive, but that's not the case any more.  Some would say it's a valid media element but only if the instructional objectives require it as the best media choice. Anyone remember the Hannafin & Peck media selection guide?

I think the real discussion to be had is around the idea of storytelling.  The delivery medium we choose to tell that story is a different argument.  I don't see what we do as instructional designers as being all that different from what great story tellers do, yet we never talk about telling a great learning story.  We never talk about the art and craft of great storytellers as being influential on the work we do.

People laugh at the idea of comic books as an effective learning medium, but I would argue that instead of looking that comic book itself, the artwork, and the physical format, we should instead be studying the craft of telling a story in the comic form and understanding why it's compelling to so many.  That doesn't mean we should all go out and start hiring comic artists and creating printed comic books as learning manuals...although the thought is compelling.  I am simply saying that the authors, the puppet masters, of those stories have a unique perspective into the art of engaging readers through the craft of storytelling.  They have something to teach us.

The same goes for the theater, the opera, the movies, the novel, the song, and the campfire.  Why can't the elements of instructional design be embedded into a story?  Maybe they are already and we just don't use the same lexicon to describe the structure.  They say theme, we say objectives.  They say chapters, we say modules.  They say character development, we say scaffolding and laddering. Are the goals of storytellers really THAT different from instructional designers? At the very least instructional designers could certainly only get better at what they did if only they studied and applied some of the techniques used by master storytellers.

The organization of content into a compelling engaging story is exactly what we do...except for the compelling engaging story part.

What stories can you tell in your eLearning?
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