I recently wrote about my experiences presenting at FocusOn Learning 2017 (you can read about them here). Part of my presentation pertained to branching scenarios, online simulations in which learners decide how to proceed in problem solving. Typically, learners get different narrative endings depending on the choices they made throughout the scenario. If they’re unhappy with the ending they got, or if they’re curious, they can replay the scenarios to see what would happen if they had chosen differently.
There are many educational benefits to using this sort of experiential approach to adult education. One educational benefit that I tend to gloss over is engagement. That’s because engagement isn’t all that interesting to me from a theoretical perspective: if learners are paying attention and enjoy what they’re doing, they’re more likely to remember the content. It’s not exactly a genius insight. But I think it’s a mistake to pretend that adult education happens in a vacuum. Learners are engaged with the media that surrounds them, and it wouldn’t hurt instructional designers to take a few tips on how to create engaging content.
Luckily for instructional designers, the field seems to be in step with the implementation of branching scenarios in other sorts of media. I recently read a New York Times article describing an episode of Puss in Boots that features branching (you can try this for yourself on Netflix on your TV or iOS device here.) I had to try this out for myself. I picked what I thought would be the hardest challenges for Puss to overcome, prompting him to say, “No matter how bad your day gets, it can always get worse.” Sorry, Puss! I got a good ending for him, though, so his hard work did not go unnoticed.
Branching stories aren’t limited to the realm of children’s entertainment. I recently noticed a Victoria’s Secret ad while browsing Facebook that prompted me to decide whether the character in the ad should spend the night in or go out on the town with her partner. You can see the ad on YouTube here, but this doesn’t replicate the fluid experience of the fully embedded ad on Facebook very well. There isn’t much to this story; regardless of what you choose, the character dons pretty clothes and dabs her lips with Victoria’s Secret lip gloss. This ad is less an example of the power of interactive storytelling and more a proof of concept. Ads can increase user engagement through branching stories, and it is very likely that this sort of advertising will gain ubiquity on platforms like Facebook.
If you haven’t been playing visual novels for the past two decades, you might think that this approach to interactivity is like the choose-your-own-adventure books from back in the day. You’re partially right. It’s the same concept, but the ease of delivery (clicking a button instead of searching for the right page) allows learners to quickly explore all their different options. This functionality increases learner engagement and encourages them to test different problem solving methods. Learners will notice this increased interactivity in their media, and they will expect their education to be just as interactive. It’s up to us to develop curricula that both meet their professional needs and keep them engaged throughout.
Watch my webinar, Solving Complex Problems with Game-Based Learning, and learn more about branching scenarios and game-based learning and how they apply to eLearning.