Think Of Instruction As A Story: Are We The Riddler?

In my previous post—How Can Instructional Designers Avoid The Sharks? I started discussing Jason McDonald’s 2010 article in TechTrends—Resisting Technological Gravity that presents some “guiding principles” for our practice as instructional designer. He proposes that for an instructional designer to resist this “gravity” we must be constantly reminded of what instruction is, how instruction is made, and what instruction is for. So today let’s discuss the first tenant in his section, “what instruction is.” Here Jason presents a personal metaphor that he identifies with, i.e., we could think of instruction as a story.

He believes that this metaphor can be helpful to us because it places the importance on the experience of the learner during the instruction.  In this metaphor Jason suggests that

“meaningful learning happens when learners’ interest and emotions are engaged as much as is their cognitive processes. It implies that instructional designers can intentionally structure learning experiences that encourage mystery and anticipation, capturing learners’ sense of wonder and using it for educational ends.”

Doesn’t this sound entertaining for the learner? To be honest… developing instruction like this I would hope help the designer to be entertained as well. To conclude, Jason reminds us of the dichotomy between the designer and the learner within the learning environment and discusses them in relation to archetypes (roles) we may be familiar with in literature:

  • Mentoring of the hero (learner) so they can complete a quest
  • Tricksters creating playful and humorous experiences for learners
  • Treasure guardians that guard the instruction until the learner can claim the prize

Not necessarily something mind blowing but how often do we think of our learners as heroes that we are mentoring? How about my favorite literature reference of us as “tricksters” creating engaging challenging learning experiences for our learners? Sounds a little like the Detective Comics super villain The Riddler doesn’t it? The DC Comics Database showcases Batman’s nemesis as an enemy that leaves challenging clues behind in otherwise perfect crimes. He delights in forewarning both Batman and the police of his capers by sending them complex clues.

In some ways would you agree that we are like the Riddler? Are we not creating engaging learning experiences through the use of riddles, puzzles, and word games?


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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3 Responses to Think Of Instruction As A Story: Are We The Riddler?

  1. Pingback: A brave attempt to collect the much ignored user manual | Biotech Innovator

  2. m. says:

    my grouse with a lot of such folksy wisdom is that it is that for one thing, it assumes our ability to completely manipulate learners. there has been absolutely no proof to warrant such a notion. also, it’s as simplistic as saying let’s just write best sellers and everyone will want to read our books. the how of the details or the hypothesis to support a more in-depth explanation is so often left out.

    another aspect that bothers me is that these notions are totally predicated on the authoritarian model where there is a clear one-way flow from a person who knows to someone who doesn’t. given your other posts embracing ideology and good intentions, i’d like to know your assessment/ opinion on the matter if you’ve the time. 🙂

    • DaveHallmon says:

      Hi M. I too am very progressive in my views of training (depending on the needs of the learner). I would often a more constructivist approach if the learner’s learning would benefit from it and they can perform to standard within the constraints. But I do feel like a little learner manipulation also still has it’s place with more behavioral and congnitivistic learning methods. I start with the needs on both sides and sometimes the learner just needs to learn some quick facts so that they can get through their day. Without the manipulation they would not have gotten there on their own.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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