Two neat tools for designing a scenario-based e-learning course

I’ve just had so much fun creating a scenario-based e-learning course on assertiveness in the workplace, so I thought I’d blog about the process. Besides my regular toolkit, two new tools were essential to the instructional design and look and feel of the course – Twine and Go Animate. Go Animate was a particular lifesaver because it allowed me to capture just the right actions and facial expressions of the different characters in my scenarios. This was something that was a lot more difficult to achieve by trawling through clipart sites looking for the same character in different poses (generally not looking at the camera).

The goal and targeted actions of the course

The goal of the course is to improve workplace communication, specifically by helping learners to become more assertive in the way that they communicate. It targets actions like active listening, being direct, using I-language, and saying no when you mean it. The e-learning course will be used at the start of a face-to-face training session and its aim is to help learners discover how assertive they are, and what it means to be assertive in everyday situations. Bandwidth guzzlers like video and audio have been avoided because of limitations in this regard, so I have intentionally kept the course quite simple.

Building the scenarios in Twine

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I started mapping out the course using Twine – a recommendation from Cathy Moore. Twine is a tool for creating interactive stories, which makes it perfect for building scenario-based courses. In my course, the main character, Amy, is faced with a situation and the learner must choose one of three possible actions for Amy to take. The learner then observes the turn of events and Amy’s co-workers’ reactions based on the action the learner chose for Amy. I felt like a novelist as I conjured up all manner of situations that Amy would be faced with (sometimes borrowing liberally from my own experience); and then I took great delight in describing the different reactions of her co-workers, especially when Amy took a particularly aggressive stance. I also added a more theoretical explanation of the outcome in order to introduce the learners to new terminology and start to link the practical situations to the theory.

As you create your story in Twine, you write short passages (in boxes), which you link to other passages (shown by arrows). When you build your story, it outputs to HTML and you can go through each passage of the story in your browser – like a choose-your-own-adventure book. At this point, I shared the HTML file on Dropbox with a few of my “trusted advisors” and got their opinions on the believability of the situations and the characters’ reactions. I wanted to make sure that the scenarios were realistic and that the choices were challenging to make. They came back with a few helpful suggestions, which I implemented when I started the next phase…

Capturing images from Go Animate

With my stories straight, I went over to Go Animate to start creating images for my scenarios. Now, let me be quite frank here – I was not using Go Animate for its intended purpose. Go Animate is a web-based tool that you can use to create animated skits using different characters and settings. It’s targeted at people like me who cannot programme in Flash, but need to put together short animated videos. It’s a great tool and I have used it to create full animations previously (complete with dialogue, camera effects and various character actions), but this time I needed something a little bit lower tech…

Each step in the story used one Go Animate scene. I set up the scene, chose actions and expressions for the characters and then took a screen shot. So much easier than searching a clipart website for the same character now with a "disappointed" or "angry" look! In a few steps I could change the actions of my characters (standing, sitting, folding arms, etc.) and their facial expressions (angry, happy, surprised, etc.). I used some of the stock characters and I also created a few of my own characters using the character builder (building new characters costs a few “Go Bucks”). You can use some Go Animate functionality for free, but other features are available on a pay-as-you-go basis, or there is a premium package (Go Plus).

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I am worried about receiving some backlash about using Go Animate in this way, but it happened to fill a gap for me that I had found in the clipart space. While I would never want to be without them, the free clipart sites are tired; and even if I did have the budget for a paid stock images account, I’m not convinced I would have found exactly the types of images I was looking for in an amount of time that justified the investment. Out of all the options, using Go Animate in this way had the most advantages and the least drawbacks. Incidentally, one of the drawbacks is the image quality. I’d like to investigate ways to get a higher quality screenshot, but for my purposes, the image quality was adequate.

Putting it all together in PowerPoint and Articulate

I inserted the various screen shots into PowerPoint, where I had set up two slide masters – “question master” and “reaction master”. I cut and paste the passages from Twine into the relevant parts of each slide. In a few cases, I had to cut back some of the dialogue or explanations in order to fit everything neatly onto the slide.

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If I did have more bandwidth to work with, I would do the full animation for each passage, together with voiceovers. This would do away with the text in the speech bubbles and make the screens less text-heavy. I think the full animations would add a pleasant dimension to the course, but I also don’t think that this comic-book style is half-bad either!

Would you like to have a look at the finished course? For the month of March, I’ve allowed free access to the course on Classroom 7. Just sign up and you’ll be able to view the course.

What do you think of this approach to getting images for scenarios? Leave a comment and let me know.