October 1


understanding character (the learner): the essential elements of storytelling in eLearning

Mrs. Marcos was my 11th grade world literature teacher. She was both petite and powerful, her hair short and cropped and she wore big red glasses. She beamed when she smiled and for some reason, compliments from her always felt sincere. She had this beautiful talent to create context around everything we studied. She talked to me like a peer. I’ve had many teachers throughout my life, yet I fondly remember Mrs. Marcos. In a certain way, you could say that Mrs. Marcos was an influential character on my learner ‘s journey. 

The importance of character when it comes to storytelling can’t be understated. Character is how we identify, relate to, and ultimately connect to emotions within a story and it’s one of the the essential elements of storytelling in eLearning. The more realized and intentional a character is, the better we can relate to her experiences. In the case of eLearning or instructor-led video education, character plays an essential role in how the learner connects with the content.

I learned the power of character back when I was a Development Executive at National Geographic Kids Entertainment. “To excite kids to explore their world” was our mission. Our medium to achieve this would be character and story-driven television series. This is how we explained our mission to potential broadcasters, “We believe that if SpongeBob inspires kids to go to the aquarium then we would have succeeded in our mission.” I understood that character was at the heart of everything we develop and produce.

So what the heck does SpongeBob have to do with creating an educational video course? Whether developing a kids TV series or compliance training, customer training, onboarding course, or a full certificate program, the development of character is essential.

Every video should aim to connect with the learner and authentically articulate the journey that learner is expected to take and why they should take it.  

Each time Edios Media kicks off a new project we ask two very important questions:

  • Who can benefit from watching this course or video?

  • Why are you the one to teach this course?

The first question begins the process of envisioning the learner as one of the core characters of the video content’s narrative. This question identifies WHY they are there; and what is their status quo as it relates to the learning outcomes of the content. Ask yourself “What dilemmas are they facing that this content may help solve for?” Paint a picture of the learner. We’ve developed entire avatars for the learners giving them names, a story, a background. 

Let’s look at an example of a learner engaging with a multi-course certification:

Sandra’s been working at her job for five years and is looking for opportunities to advance in her career. She’s well aware of existing barriers in her skillset, but she is eager to grow and needs the right online course. She works full time and has a family; both demand most of her time, but she has perseverance. Sandra has always enjoyed security-related projects and wants to interview to be a Security Analyst. There is so much potential for growth in the Security industry and the ever-changing nature of the role excites her. More than anything Sandra knows that a promotion would provide financial relief, which translates to more opportunities for her and her family.

Identifying the status quo of the learner is just half the story. Next, paint a picture of that learner after they’ve successfully completed the content. This story development practice works whether creating one short video or an in-depth 500-video certification. Let’s get back to Sandra. Identifying who she could be once she finishes the content may include some pretty exciting visualization.

After finishing the course Sandra is confident to start interviewing and excited to thrive in this new role. The additional salary will provide more flexibility and security for her family. Sandra feels empowered and in control of her career.

Now imagine how this might look for a compliance video course designed to identify and prevent harassment in the workplace. How would you identify and describe that learner after having these new skills? How do they feel? Are they empowered to proactively improve their work community? How will they act when a potential situation summons these newly learned skills?

Take the time to dive into your learner’s character in the earliest stages of the content development. Don’t forget to include the learner’s journey in the videos. The scripts must be able to articulate that important question mentioned above – who can benefit from watching this course or video? Obviously, the intros and outros are perfect spots to connect to the character of the learner. Try answering that question throughout the content.

Look for opportunities to connect with the learner emotionally. Remind them why they are there and where they will be once they’ve completed their journey.

As mentioned, each time I kick off a new project with a client I ask them two questions that uncovers the essential element of character within the content – why is the instructor is the right one to teach this content? This important question identifies the other main character in the video education course. This aspect of character development will be covered in the next post in this series on the essential elements of storytelling as it relates to video education development.

Michael Karsh, Co-founder & Executive Producer, Edios Media

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