Written by:

Holly Macdonald


April 16, 2012

I read fiction, typically “award-winning” novels (am a fiction snob truth be told) and am often thinking about how to incorporate some techniques into my e-learning design. Novels

Novels (Photo credit: sbluerock)

  • Character development – when reading a novel, I don’t have to love the character, but I do have to care what happens to them. There have been novels where the main character is really annoying or quite unpleasant, but I am curious enough about what happens to them, I think for at least a couple of reasons: they are believable, not stereotypes or caricatures and have some depth. I wonder how I might learn from this in e-learning? Developing a persona is one way, but I’m curious about how others develop characters for e-learning…
  • Story structure – I happen to like novels that are a little different. One of my recent favorites was “A Cloud Atlas“, where a series of short stories was tied together by a connection to another, in this one it was generational, but the unique part was that each story ended on a cliffhanger, and were all completed in backwards sequence. Story 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,5, 4, 3, 2, 1. In the end, the entire group of stories made sense on the whole and you could see how they were all a result of action in a previous story that may have been actions of the era, but not necessarily front and center to the plot of the story. I am currently reading a story that has two characters developing at the same time (one chapter at a time), and I think they end up interacting at some point, but at this stage, it is like they are parallel universes. Very cool. Might not be entirely translatable to e-learning, but I think we could certainly tear a page or two…
  • Pacing, such as flashbacks, the slow reveal, other ways of establishing mood in your story arc. When you want to convey a point, in a novel, you’d use language, so why not in e-learning. A single word or a use Cathy Moore’s fabulous ideas in the “Make them want to click the next button” slideshare. You might also “serialize” your course, a la Dickens. Release your course in chapters over time instead of all at once. If you have a really socially media savvy organization, maybe a course via tweets (whatever the equivalent of that is in Yammer, “yams?”).
  • Setting – I think many e-learning courses are probably set in the cube farm or other “office-y” type places.  I wonder what would happen if we made the settings more fictional. Would it seem corny? I think for some it could be kind of liberating. Often I think really dialing up the setting could be an interesting way to frame your e-learning. Maybe a spoof of something really popular (Star Wars, Hunger Games, Mad Men). Or a real defined genre. Check out this fabulous example: Brandon Generator.
  • Plot devices – redherrings, Deus ex machina, the object with otherwordly power (think “the ring” in Lord of the Rings, and things like that) – could also be used in e-learning.

Could just be that I harbour the author fantasy. What about you? Do you have any fiction lessons that you would add/share?