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Story-centred e-learning + SMEs

March 3, 2011

I am finding that the process of developing a story-centred e-learning is so engaging and makes total sense for me, but seems less intuitive for the Subject Matter Expert (SME).  I have created a storyboard and sample of what the process should be, but the SME is having a hard time not viewing it from the content perspective.  The SME has said stuff like this:

The part of the curriculum where this happens includes X, Y and Z, and they need to know this material.

I felt like the SME thought of it as an either/or situation.  We either give them the content or not.  I realized I had to help the SME understand that the learner would be getting this information, just not lead by the nose, and much of it they would be constructing themselves.  We wanted to create context for the learner.  I used the terms: challenge, dilemma, problem, situation.  I talked about emotional hooks, visceral connection and motivation.  It all seemed to swirl around and weren’t quite right.  I was obviously not explaining myself very well, and getting a bit frustrated.  After some discussion, I finally hit upon a term that helped. 

I said “we need to give our character a decision to make”.  If the learner is at all engaged in the content, they will relate to the character’s situation or they will be compelled to want to know more.   Aha!  We had it.  Scenarios and ideas for those decisions started burbling up and we have a ton of great scenarios where the character will need to make a decision.  The SME was talking faster than I could type or hear, and really (really) got it.  Because this is a facilitation course, we also have a number of offline activities that they will complete.

So, I’ve learned so far that you need help your SME’s see that a character who has to DO some thing in your e-learning course is critical.  Even if it isn’t within your course, and that information doesn’t need to be up front to be part of the learning.   I also learned that I needed to be persistent and reminded (again) that communication is always about what the other person understands, not about what I said.

On a side note, I would love to have had a site that showed lots of “before” and “after” examples of e-learning, where before shows how the same subject is designed/developed poorly and then re-designed well.  If you know of such a site, let me know!

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