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Find your narrative flow - learning strategy and design

Blog posts | 28.08.2013

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

Writing exceptional elearning scripts isn’t as easy as it looks. Often, when elearning designers are handed a pile of content, they lovingly create a detailed outline and then string their slides together. The end result? A series of content slides stuck together, jumping from idea to idea: this slide makes this point; this slide makes that point. In other words: an information dump. And nobody wants to live in a dump.

Designers often leave out an essential ingredient – a common thread that weaves it all together – that can turn an information dump into a memorable story.

So how can you find your narrative flow? How can you turn that content into a story? Let’s look at four simple strategies you can use to find your flow.


1. Stitch it together

A simple idea, but so often missed. As you write your way through the content, be sure that you’re stitching it all together with strong transitions that connect ideas.

This means – even in a screen driven – that you’re making transitions from one slide to the next. You pick up the thread of an idea from the previous slide and carry it through to the next so your participant (aka your 'learner') can follow your thought process. It could sound like this: “We just looked at core concept. Now let’s see how you can apply this to your own work.”

2. Call it out

Making content relevant and contextual – that’s the special sauce that can turn blah blah blah elearning into something your learners can actually use. Especially for novice learners who are new to this content, pointing out why this content really matters to them and how they might apply it gives it that extra oomph – and might actually make the difference in whether or not they DO anything different at the end of it all.

As you consider your narrative flow, ask yourself this question on every screen: why does the learner even care about this? You may want to make this statement explicit and spell it out in the content. The coherent thread of your program then, is why does this matter to me?

3. Use a guided story

“Meet Pete. Pete is a new bank teller and he’s seeing his first customers today. Let’s follow Pete on his journey and help him out.”

A guided story provides a simple narrative structure through a 'day in the life' of a character. As the elearning program unfolds, the learner follows the actions of the protagonist, helping guide the character and learning something about the process along the way.

Guided stories make it easy for the designer to find that thread from slide to slide because the story is front and centre. This structure may not work for every program, but it’s a nice tool to pull out of your back pocket.

4. Break the screen – stories that scroll

Often elearning suffers from this because we think in terms of screens. That leads to thinking about filling the screen, then putting in a Next button, then filling the next screen. Fast track to boredom. Change the flow by changing how you move through the content. We’ve talked about how our approach to Responsive elearning Design has opened up the potential of scrolling content, and taking a more article-based approach. Both of these techniques can be great for driving a narrative. Stop thinking screens, start thinking scrolls (the Dead Sea one is a good start).

Go with your flow

So much of the self-paced elearning that’s out there consists of slide after slide of content, content, content. Designers: it’s on your shoulders to make that content meaningful and applicable. We have to work to gain and hold the interest of our learners. Find the story that you have to tell… and then tell it well.

How do you find your flow? Do you have any tips or strategies you’d like to share?  

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

Cammy has been collaborating with organisations to design online learning programs since 1996. An active speaker and blogger, Cammy gets fired up about instructional design, avoiding the trap of clicky-clicky bling-bling, and ways to use technology to create real behavior change.