Storytelling and Instructional Design

Standard

I believe that storytelling is a big part of learning. Just think back to the best teachers and professors you’ve had and chances are they made the content you were learning come alive for you. There’s also a very good chance that it’s because they used some sort of story to ties the pieces together or make your care about what you were learning. Even your earliest teachers – your parents, grandparents and other family members – used stories to help you learn the culture, morals and behaviors of your family and your community. Storytelling was used as an instructional tool long before the written word.

So why is it that so many instructional designers seem to focus on the pushing content out to learners and spend so little time focusing on telling a story that will help the learner become involved and remember the content? I’ve actually had people tell me that it was bad idea to try to tell a story with serious content intended for an adult learner.

I was thrilled to read Connie Malamed’s post on The e-Learning Coach talking about a conference she attended that included a session on storytelling. She used some of the ideas from the session to create 10 reasons why storytelling needs to be part of learning. It’s a great list and Connie makes some great points. I urge you to read the post whether you work in learning or not. The points she makes can be applied to marketing, branding and many of the other categories people put communication into.

It boils down to this. If you want people understand, relate to, and walk away with the message you’re sharing with them, you need to share it with them in a way that is interesting. A way that is memorable. A way that makes them care about the message and want to remember it. Help them connect the dots and give them a reason to want to take that message to heart. It worked when you were in school, why wouldn’t it work for the people you’re communicating with today?

Writing for Your Audience and Your Medium

Standard
Family watching television, c. 1958

Image via Wikipedia

Over the last few days I’ve been reminded again how important it is to write for your audience and your medium. We’ve all heard about writing for the intended audience (you don’t write at a college level when your audience is 4th graders) and how important it is to make sure the audience will understand what you’re trying to say. If we’re lucky we’ve even had a little time to study the audience and understand them. The final product has a better chance of being accepted when we know the audience and write for them.

A lot of people forget about the importance of writing to the medium as well. In my experience a lot of people forget that there is a difference between the way you should write for a text-book, a presentation, a website and video. The delivery method has a huge impact on the way information is received, so it should influence the content itself. For example, how do you think a video would be received when the script sounds like it’s been directly lifted from a text-book? Would a presentation have the same feeling as an article on a web? If you want to be successful the answer should be no.

I’ve worked in video, marketing and instructional design. I’ve written for everything from TV promos to kiosks to instructor guides. Trust me, if you want to hold people’s interest and make your point you need to think about how your message is being delivered. If what you delivered will be read aloud, then you need to read it out-loud. You need to hear the way the words sound together and make sure it’s easy to listen to, and just as importantly, that it can be easily read. If the words are awkward or hard to say the person you are trying to communicate with will have a hard time receiving the message. I have had the opportunity to rewrite a number of scripts so that look good on paper, but when you read them out loud it is a whole different story. (As a side note, scripts that have been proofread and approved by lawyers is often difficult to read out-loud and to hear).

Take my advice, and save yourself a lot of trouble, add delivery medium to the list of  things you think about before you start to write. Your audience will thank you for it.

Video Production vs. Instructional Design

Standard

I’m sure many of my Instructional Design (ISD) friends will disagree, but I don’t think that there’s a lot of differences between video project development and ISD. I’ll wait for the ISDs to stop shaking their heads at their computer screens….it’s true. Some of the phases have different names, but the purposes are very much the same.
**Please note I’m talking about informative videos, not cute videos of your cat posted on YouTube or other videos created for entertainment.

Let’s compare…

Video

  • Audience Analysis
  • Requirements Collection
  • Interviews with Subject Matter Experts
  • Design & Development (write script, choose look and feel, etc.)
  • Evaluate

Instructional Design

  • Audience Analysis
  • Requirements Collection
  • Interviews with Subject Matter Experts
  • Design & Developments (write instructor guide, decide on look and feel of materials, etc.)
  • Evaluate

Even with writing there are similarities. You have to determine the most logical approach for the project. Where do you start? Where do you end? Whether you’re teaching or video taping a process you move from step-to-step in logical progression. The level of detail and end purpose may be different, but they way you go about it is essentially the same.

Whether I’m writing a script or writing an instructor guide I look at it as telling a story. Yes, there are differences but the fundamentals are the same. You need to get a point across. You want to have the viewer or learner leave knowing something that they didn’t know before.

I’ve come across more than one ISD or learning professional that will completely disagree with me. They are certain that the approach is completely different. And even when the instructional documents I completed were on par with what they completed (using their “vastly different” approach) they refused to believe that I used anything other than the same approach that they did.

I will agree that the level of detail, and the execution are different. And I know how hard it is to update video compared to updating and design document or instructor guide. I agree that there are differences. But most of the differences are in the fine print and not in the steps taken.

I’d like to think that video production folks, Instructional Designers, e-learning gurus, teachers, professors, and producers do more things alike than they do different. I think that it’s like having a different dialect. We’re all speaking the same language, we just have a different way of talking about things. The biggest differences come at the beginning of the project when the type of medium used and the purpose is decided (think back to the cute kitten video mentioned above – videos done for entertainment do not fit the approach I’ve described as well as a documentary or instructional video.)

Now, I’m sure that there’s someone out there reading this who is not happy with this line of thinking. I’m pretty sure that there are folks who could be down right angry. They’ll demand to know how someone like me – a video person for Pete’s sake! – could know anything about instructional design. I’ve spent most of my time in corporate video working with instructional designers on instructional videos. I also spent a few years working as an ISD developing a class complete with instructor guide and handouts. There are still people who I worked with then who don’t believe I developed the materials I did approaching it “my way.”

I say as long as the product does what it is intended to do, meets its objects and succeeds in training or educating someone, does it matter how you got there?