Storytelling lies at the heart of our humanity. We tell stories every day of our lives and their structure, plots and characters help us connect with content by exploring relatable and familiar situations and people. Through characters we can see an idea from multiple perspectives imagine ourselves in different shoes.
From Joseph Campbell’s journey of the hero (like in Star Wars) to converging narratives (like in Pulp Fiction), stories evoke a primal instinct for knowledge. eLearning is often about imparting knowledge and that’s why a narrative approach works. Why? We want to learn and be entertained, and memorable stories and fables have been at the core of how most of us learn since early childhood.
Narratives allow us to explore our behaviour and how we make decisions. They may also investigate the history of a person and why they behave in certain ways. But more importantly, they bring a three-dimensional approach to the education process, enabling us to almost unconsciously learn something. Let’s take a look at some of the narrative techniques we have used to great effect in some of our recent eLearning projects.
Sliding Doors or parallel narrative
Based on the 1998 film of the same name, the Sliding Doors narrative structure is two-tiered, creating a parallel narrative. Essentially, one person lives two separate lives in dual dimensions and their quality of life is dependent upon one life-changing decision. Basically, should I or shouldn’t I? And based on this decision, their life plays out accordingly.
We used this narrative device in a recent module for Lion Co to exemplify good and bad decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption. Using a split screen style of vision, one side of the screen shows what you shouldn’t do, and the other shows what you should do.
The animation starts on the left side of the screen and shows the wrong thing to do and then it moves to the right and shows the character doing the right thing. So, you see a character faced with one decision that has two consequences. Do I go into work under the influence, or do I contact my supervisor and go home?
A circular narrative briefly starts at the end of a narrative and then backtracks to the beginning. The audience is given a glimpse of what has happened but not how it happened. This device is called a flash forward and is used to heighten the mystery of a narrative. The audience is confronted with the conclusion but not the journey that led to that conclusion. So, this leads you to want to know how it happened. This narrative device is used in Fight Club where we see the protagonist at the end of his nihilistic journey with a gun in his mouth and cuts and bruises all over his body. This raises many questions and that age-old desire to know more. Curiosity is the backbone of our primal need to solve life’s mysteries and is a great way to encourage intrinsic motivation to learn.
Use of Philosophy
Philosophy sounds difficult but it isn’t. We use it every day to make many ordinary decisions. For example, “I have a lot on at work at the moment, should I chuck a sickie”. This is the basis of the categorical imperative, duty and desire. Emmanuel Kant concluded that we should choose duty over desire otherwise the world would be plunged into chaos because a sense of duty brings order. We used this notion to form the basis of the theoretical framework for BHP’s “Fit for Work” eLearning module.
The duty paradigm is perfect for this kind of module because it’s our ‘duty’ to turn up to work, fit for work, particularly on a mine site where the risks are enormous. Being unfit could lead to your death, or the death of a co-worker. The stakes are high and the Kantian categorical imperative is paramount to the safety of everybody on-site. A philosophical approach to eLearning brings a depth of analysis and provides layers of meaning. Also, philosophical insights have been at the core of narratives since Ulysses finally got home safe but not altogether sound.
There’s an uncanny feeling we get when a story makes sense, like all the jigsaw pieces fell off a cliff and landed perfectly intact at our feet. Stories feel intrinsically right to us and are part of our genetic make-up, a part of who we are, and a strong part of our universal culture. Every nation on earth has its stories and through these stories universal truths about who we are, and where we came from, are revealed. In essence, stories are the beating heart of our ability to navigate our way through ideas and make sense of it all. And in the end, we’re the sum total of our stories and when it’s all over, the multitude of stories become one story. A life.