Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Story-Based Learning Design Using a Mobster Story

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis. An iconic TV series is used as a model for creating an open-ended ending for story-based elearning design. Such an approach creates cycles of continuous learning because the lesson becomes collaborative. As the learners attempt to put an ending to an unconcluded story, different insights contribute to the development of the lesson.

Image source.

American actor James Gandolfini passed away last June 19, 2013. He played the iconic role of Tony Soprano in the HBO TV hit series The Sopranos. As the mob boss of a ruthless and dysfunctional crime family syndicate in New Jersey, Gandolfini was critically acclaimed for his intensity and realistic portrayal of the role.

The Sopranos are considered as the greatest television series of all time. It has won a multitude of awards, including back-to-back Peabody Awards for its first two seasons, twenty-one Emmy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named it the best-written series in television history. (Wikipedia).

What impressed me most about the Sopranos was the manner the scriptwriters ended the series. The interpretation and meaning of the Sopranos’“final scene” is still being debated today, six years after the last episode was aired.

The final scene showed the Soprano family about to have a family dinner in a diner. The camera pans through different frames suggesting that an assassin could show up and ‘whack’ the crime boss in front of his family. As tension builds up, the camera gives a close-up of Tony Soprano’s face, looking at someone who just entered the diner. Then, blackout. The credits followed without any annotation or epilogue. Watch the Sopranos’ final scene here. The ending has spurred hundreds – if not thousands – of blogs, articles and feature writing, explaining their point of view or interpretation of the ending.

The Sopranos’ finale is a clear example of what we story-based elearning designers aim to achieve in their elearning modules. After hooking the learners with a well-written and engaging story, the open-ended ending allow the viewers decide how to end their story.

In the same manner, a story-based elearning lesson solicits innumerable lessons, insights, interaction and reaction among the learners. Unlike conventional learning where there have been always a ‘right or wrong’, the story-based elearning lesson probes deeper into the emotional and intellectual faculties of the learners. The learning becomes collaborative because of the interaction and feedback.

Here are some guidelines on how to create a story-based elearning lesson with an impactful open ending:
  • The beginning and body of the story should be engaging. It should move the learners to commit to the story. It should be compelling enough to make them deeply concerned about how the story would end.
  • If the developer could not feel the tension and conflict of his or her SBL design, I am 100% certain that the learners would not experience it also. Without character identification, the story-based elearning lesson fails to connect with the learner. Without such connection, the whole learning framework falls apart.
  • Everybody is basically going through the same thing every day: joy, happiness, enthusiasm, sadness, tension, anxiety, disappointment and fatigue, among others. Human emotions are the easiest to recreate and project. Reflect and ask: is this story-based elearning lesson projecting an authentic experience?
I close by quoting an excerpt from my book Scenario-Based Learning Using Stories To Engage e-Learners:
“Many of us in the business of teaching, learning and training believe it is our role to engage learners. We become frustrated during these occasions when we can’t achieve this. We can only set the stage for learners to become engaged themselves. There’s a difference. Learners are perpetually engaged by their own stories. They complete their own stories, their bucket lists. Trainers and designers merely help by facilitating the process. The power of SBLs is to allow learners to complete their stories and discover the embedded learning ideas, not to force them to participate in stories that don’t resonate. They may go through the motions, but they won’t be engaged.”
Story-based elearning design creates a never-ending story that draws reactions, perspective and insight long after the last scene ended.

Related Blogs

Creating Learning Peaks with Scenarios

Put the elements of viral videos in eLearning story design


Scenario-Based Learning Using Stories To Engage e-Learners by Raymundo Jimenez, PhD.

The Sopranos, Wikepedia

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