Following the Characters and their Stories
We all love to follow people's lives because we want to know what they will do next. Isn't this the normal way we learn? Isn't this the reason why we love the "Modern Family," "Jon Stewart," "Saturday Night Live," "Dancing with The Stars" or "Downtown Abbey?"
Episodic Learning AKA, Thematic learning is the natural way we learn. Since childhood, we immediately learn to follow life's episodes as it unfolds before us. What's daddy and mommy up to this time? Are they having a fight? Whose birthday is it? These are some of the episodes that we naturally follow at home and in the community around us. In the words of John F. Kihlstrom in his article "How Students Learn -- and How We Can Help Them," "Episodic knowledge is essentially autobiographical memory, for particular events that have a unique location in space and time."
Then all of a sudden we join the classroom and we are bombarded with an avalanche of information which we can't easily digest! Wait a minute, this is not the usual way we learn! In one word-boring...
According to Bethany Bodenhamer in a blog post in Lesson Planet titled "Themes vs. Timelines" "Dates, names, numbers, and places are the facts that young historians are often required to memorize in their various history courses. Therefore, that is generally how and what teachers teach. However, what if there was a more interesting, intriguing, and captivating way to teach these same facts - a way in which students are taught the basics at the same time that they are making connections, discovering themes, and thinking at a higher level? This is all possible by teaching thematically."
In short, what if there is a better way to go in-depth while avoiding boredom?
Advantages of Episodic Learning
Episodic Learning enables learners to go deeper into the topic without being bugged down by the barrage of information coming in. Consider the following natural advantages:
1. Heightens Curiosity
Curiosity is the currency in learning. When you run out of it, you can't just expect to continue absorbing any kind of knowledge. The good thing with episodic learning is that it heightens our natural curiosity about what happens next. The "cliff hangers" that ends an episode in a story make us wanting for more episodes to come. Hence, learning becomes a natural process.
2. Allows Reflection
These cliff hangers make us mull over what's possibly going to happen next in the story. What will the main character do in this situation? Can he still pull more tricks from his sleeves? If so, will it work this time? These are some of the reflective questions that come to mind because you are left hanging by the last story episode.
3. Enables Possibility Thinking
This mulling over enables you, the learner, to become a possibility thinker. "Thinking out of the box" is a learned trait in traditional learning but it comes naturally in episodic story based learning. It enables you to think in terms of "what if" instead of "what is."
4. Opens Up Other Scenarios
Now that you have considered other possibilities by thinking out of the box, other scenarios open up. A world of possibilities is all of a sudden available to you instead of just copying existing ones. The well-trodden path is not always the best path. True learners try the path least travelled.
5. Allows Open Discussion
Opened up scenarios allow like-minded learners to discuss them openly. There are no stupid ideas, all are given equal air-time in the discussion forums. Open discussions create an escalation of the available ideas contributed from all learners. Since all feel welcome to contribute, all possibilities are exhausted and ideas are collated to form a unified solution.
6. More Opportunities for Designers
This openness allows designers to insert more content pertinent to the stories. The possibilities are endless and you are not bound to any specific format. The only limit to content creation is your creativity.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Sound off in the comments section!
Bethany Bodenhamer: Themes vs. Timelines: Lesson Planet: May 10, 2014
John F. Kihlstrom: How Students Learn -- and How We Can Help Them: Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley: March 8, 2011
Margaret Rhodes: A New Way to Tell Stories That Outlive the Media's Attention Span: Wired: Feb. 25, 2015
Ray Jimenez, PhD
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"