august 27


understanding setting: the essential elements of Storytelling in eLearning

You’ve decided that creating an original online course or video will help your business.  Now you are responsible for creating content that will not only engage the learner, but compel them to complete the content the coursework and exhibit competency with this new skill.  In a previous post, I discussed how course creators must be intentional in the early stages of curriculum development by incorporating the five fundamental elements of storytelling into the fabric of their learning.

Let’s dive in to the element of setting.  In movies, setting refers to the time and the place that the narrative occurs.  Can you guess this setting? The Orca, a few miles off the coast of Amity Island, daytime.  Or how about The Bates Motel, evening?  I hope you guessed “Jaws” and “Pyscho”! But why is setting important as it relates to the development of educational videos? 

In eLearning, there are three different ways to think about location.

The Location of the Instructor

The actual set can have a big impact on the overall narrative of the course.  Ask yourself what energy and tone you are trying to convey. Imagine the difference in tone of an instructor behind a large desk in a corporate office, versus an instructor standing in a loft-like space with exposed brick and large windows, or someone in front of a bright seamless wall. Do you want the set to feel aspirational to the learner, perhaps showing a really cool open office where they might one day work?  Or maybe you want the location to feel relatable to the learner. For instance, maybe your course is designed for software engineers and the location can resemble a developer’s workstation. Be intentional when determining what the set for your course will be and how others will perceive the location.

The Location of the Learner

Do you imagine your learners engaging with the course at home?  At a cafe? At their work station? On their smartphone on the train commuting to work?  The most important thing to think about when it comes to the location of the learner is less about where they are watching and more about how they are watching. Will your learners be watching your content on a mobile device or exclusively on a laptop or desktop computer? Mobile screens are relatively tiny and are very difficult to read if there is too much detail on screen. Be wary of including too much text in your presentation.  The key takeaway is to make sure none of the content is being lost because your viewer is watching on a mobile screen. It is very difficult to compel your learner if they feel left behind because the visuals aren’t optimized for a small screen.

Location of the Learner within the Course

This setting is arguably the most important feature for the course and may have the biggest impact on the learner. Can the learner, at any point, understand where they are within the journey of the course? In other words, are they aware of where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going in the course?

If the learner feels lost and has no mechanisms to remind her where she is, she will disengage.

There are two key tools to articulate this to a learner. First, you can do this through the scripts which are verbally articulated by your instructor. Second, you can indicate it graphically through a ‘breadcrumb.” A ‘breadcrumb’,  is a visual representation of the location of the learner within the curriculum, like you see in a video game or a subway map.

During the script creation, take the opportunity to remind the learner what they have accomplished, and how it is relevant not only to what will be learned later but to overall course’s goals.  For example, “Congratulations for making it this far. Let’s just take a moment to remind you of everything you are now able to do with this widget. In the upcoming videos you’ll see how these lessons will help you build your first app.” Oftentimes we will incorporate this language into the intros and outros of the course, module, or lessons.

The visual breadcrumb can be a very useful graphic that is incorporated in various ways. For instance,  you can use it as the title frame for each video. There are definitely a few things to remember when creating this graphic.  The approved titles and the structure of the videos will often change throughout the lifetime of the material. Keep this in mind as you design the actual graphic so you don’t have to recreate and edit every single video if there is a change to one title or you decide to move it to a different module.

Visual Breadcrumb Example Google IT Support Professional Certificate

Remember that settings refer both to the place AND time of a course.  We covered a few ways to identify and incorporate the concept of place, but how should you think about the TIME as it relates to setting in your educational video?  

How long are your videos?  The questions of video length is quite controversial and at the very least deserves its own post.  Some folks seem to think that a learner’s attention can’t be held for longer than 90 seconds while others feel that the content itself should dictate the video runtime.

Video length does have an effect on the attention span of your learner.

Inevitably, one of the first things your learner will look at is the video run time.  Don’t terrify them! After watching thousands of videos I believe the ‘sweet spot’ for runtime is somewhere between 2:00–5:00 minutes per video.

Keep references to time in the scripts to a minimum.  How learners consume eLearning is changing everyday. Now your learners might be watching the content at their work stations, completing the course in one or two sessions.  In the future you might want to repurpose the content so it’s intended to be consumed over several weeks in small chunks. Give yourself that flexibility by not using specific words like “today” or, “In this week’s videos..”  Instead try “In this video” or “In this module” or “In the next few videos we will talk about…”

Are you teaching a feature or a lesson that will be outdated in the future?  That’s ok, just keep that in mind in the development process so you can make the changes efficiently as possible when updates occur.  For our clients, we often create video formats that are flexible, so they can bundle their updates quarterly or yearly, and edit them into the course as seamlessly and as cost-effectively as possible. 

Hopefully you are beginning to see how to embrace the idea of an online course as a type of narrative, a story to tell. When you identify and construct the elements of the story intentionally, you are creating a more engaging educational product that will compete for your learner’s attention. Identifying the setting of your course is just the first step; check out my next post where I dive into the element of CHARACTER.

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

The Latest

Stay up to date with the latest news and tips.