What is conversation-driven elearning? One strategy for creating a story for learning is delivering content with two narrators having a conversation. This differs from the traditional approach of a single narrator lecturing. Instead of one voice acting as an instructor, this approach lets learners listen in on two characters who are talking about it.
Less tiring to listen to
Let’s face it: Voice over, even good voice over, can be tiring to listen to for long periods of time. It’s more engaging to listen to the back and forth of two voices.
For example, consider podcasts. Many podcasts include two or three people talking rather than one. If it’s one person talking, they often use interviews, guests, or clips to break up the monotony of a single voice.
Easier to write conversationally
As you may already know, a conversational tone is better for elearning. This is the Personalization Principle for multimedia learning theory (Mayer, 2009). It can be challenging to write a single narrator delivering content in a conversational style though. On the other hand, if you write dialog, you’ll naturally stay away from bullet point lists.
Some studies have found learners can remember information in a narrative format better than bullet points (Glonek & King, cited in Kapp, 2014).
Who are your characters?
One Mentor, One Learner
In a two-narrator course, one character is the mentor, and one is the learner. You need some difference in the knowledge and experience level between the characters in order to drive the conversation. You’re still doing some instruction, after all, just in a different format.
This strategy is frequently used in television and film to deliver content. NCIS, for example, always has one character on the team who is new to the agency. That allows the script writers to deliver expository information in dialog between an experienced agent and a new one. The same approach is used when a more technical forensics expert or coroner explains something to a less technical agent. Watch any crime procedural and you’ll see this technique in use.
Reflect Typical Learners
The job or role of the less experienced character should be similar to your learners.
- Audience: Who is your audience? Who are your typical learners?
- Experience: What experience and background do they have? What skills do they currently have? What skills do they lack?
- Concerns: What are their concerns?
- Obstacles: What obstacles to they face?
Initially, at the beginning of the course, your character lacks the same knowledge and skills as your audience. This helps learners identify with the character.
During the course, your character follows a similar path as the one you want your audience to take. The learners are on a parallel path, shadowing your character as he or she learns.
Mentor as Manager or Leader
Next, consider who your audience works with. Who are the mentors for your audience? In their jobs, who do they learn from? Is it a manager or a more experienced person in the same role?
Figure out who would explain this information if it happened as part of on-the-job training. That’s the role for your mentor character.
Gender and Diversity
Unless your audience is overwhelmingly male or female, generally one character should be male and one female. That makes it easier to distinguish the voices, plus it provides equal gender representation. If you create multiple courses or modules with this technique, aim for 50% of the modules showing a female mentor or manager.
Be aware of racial, ethnic, and other characteristics of diversity as well. Representing people of color in leadership roles can help challenge stereotypes.
How to create conversation-driven elearning
If you’d like to try this, you can also read my follow-up posts on this topic.
Writing Conversations for eLearning: How to write and structure the conversation between two characters to deliver eLearning content
Media Options for Conversation-Driven eLearning: While you could use more resource-intensive multimedia, you have a range of options with this technique. It’s possible to use conversations even with a low budget. I’ve created conversation-driven eLearning with video, animation, and photos.
Finally, for an example of a conversation-driven course with two characters, check out my post on a Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course.
Kapp, K. (2014, December 24). Abstract of a Study Related to Storytelling. [Blog post.] Retrieved from http://karlkapp.com/abstracts-of-study-related-to-storytelling/
Mayer, R. (2009). Personalization, Voice, and Image Principles. In Multimedia Learning (pp. 242-262). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511811678.018
Originally published 2/1/2017. Updated 1/5/2021.