…Oh Sorry about that. I just had to put the finishing touches on a proposal for an elearning project. Now comes the tough part: the waiting.
In the mean time, let’s get back to our topic on how to relate the “Show. Don’t tell” principle that get’s preached in screenwriting circles to our elearning projects.
One important mantra related to “Show. Don’t tell” is: “Get in late. Get out early.” Besides being my philosophy for shopping at Wal-Mart, the idea here is that you want to get people into the action as soon as possible while, at the same time, providing context and back story in the most efficient way possible without “telling” too much—hence the “get out early” idea.
Have you ever seen a movie that takes too long to get into the meat of the story or watched a scene that was drawn-out to the point where you thought, “Ok, ok…we get it!”? It’s painful. This type of thing is a sure recipe for a tuned-out audience because the story starts to drag.
Usually, writers of these scripts worry that the audience won’t get the back story or understand the subtle nuances of the character and so try and “tell” us what a character is like up front with lots of dialogue or flash backs before the story engages. Sure, the set-up to a story is crucial, and the first ten pages are the most important of the entire script, but it has to be carefully crafted and very succinct. A writer should only give the audience enough information to get them started so that they can build on their knowledge later in the context of the story. The main job of the set-up is to provide a hook that propels us into the heart of the story.
Let me illustrate. Put up your hand if you’ve seen the original Karate Kid. (Come on! I’m sure you’ve tried that crane -kick-move more than once!) Despite its cheesiness, screen writers often use this movie to illustrate good screen play structure. When we first meet Mr Miyagi in the first few pages of the script, we don’t know much about him other than: a) he is the superintendent of the building that Daniel lives in, b) he seems to like Daniel right off the bat, c) he is a bit mysterious, and d) he has a dry sense of humor.
We don’t find out until much later that he was a pilot during the second world war, knows Karate, and still grieves the loss of his wife over a bottle of Saki (sorry for the spoiler). Here, at the beginning of the story, we only get enough information to know that he will be important later on. If the writer would have had Mr. Miyagi explain his whole sordid history on their first encounter with Daniel, we would have totally lost our engagement with the main character and it would have taken away from the big picture of the story.
Now let’s relate this to eLearning. Face it, a lot of elearning titles are a little slow getting out of the gate. They take too long to get to the action, and by the time they do, we’ve lost interest in the content. Often this comes in the form of a long-winded introduction telling us what the course is about and the copious amount of time (usually in the form of text) spent describing the objectives. It may also come in the form of instructions on how to navigate the course, use the help, how to exit, and how to avoid repetitive stress syndrome while clicking through the course intro.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for objectives and I am not saying that we shouldn’t do some of these things (or maybe I am) but we need to be careful about front-end loading our learning so that it takes a half an hour just to find out how to use a course. At the very least, we should not force people to sit through everything if they don’t want to. We need to design our courses so that these things are self-evident. If we design for the ten percent who don’t know how to click a forward arrow, then we are in big trouble (and so is the ten percent). I think it’s always best to get our learners into the content early so that they can be hooked into it and get where they are going. If we don’t, we risk losing the ninety percent.
If you are wondering how to do this, go look at any popular kid’s video game and you will see some principles. The best ones, show kids how to use the interface while they actually do things in the game–while they are already engaged in the story. The designers of these games try their best not to take learning out of the context of the story in order to teach the kids how to do something. This takes some thought and solid user interface design but is worth it.
I have also come across elearning courses that teach how to use specialized software packages but spend more time up-front on how to navigate the software than on teaching how to use it to perform a job-related task (if they do at all). So first, you have to sit through pages on how to use the course, and then endure pages that teach you how to navigate the software. That’s just not a good use of time and it’s as boring as________. You fill in the blank. (You see what I did there? I made this blog posting interactive!)
I guess my point is, let’s teach people how to use the software to do their jobs and teach them how to use the “features” of the software in context of actually doing something. Let’s not always feel like we need to get in at the beginning, but rather, let’s get in late and get out early and maybe our learners will have some time left over to catch the next show. Besides, personally, I find that all that front-loaded information presented out-of-context just tends to get lost in the eternal sunlight of my spotless mind.