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The value of creativity in eLearning

By Callum Scott
With a PhD in Creative Writing and over 8 years as an academic, Callum Scott, our lively Scottish import and one of BSI eLearning’s Instructional Designers has penned a piece discussing the story writing process. 


We all love good stories. They entertain and fascinate, provide new worlds and create new thought. A traditional story comes in three parts, beginning, middle and end, following Aristotle’s three act structure. This is a formula we’re all familiar with and it’s easy for us to navigate our way through this structure. When I’m developing an eLearning module, I think about this structure, but more importantly, I think about how I can use this structure to make the module more creative.

There is absolutely no reason why eLearning modules can’t use elements of creative thinking to heighten their engagement for the learner. I use a technique that I call Fictive Embedded Information (FEI), where I develop a storyline for my module and populate it with the relevant content. This enables me to tell a story, provide a narrative arc and inform the learner at the same time. With all three elements working together, the learner is presented with a more engaging way of absorbing information.

I recently used this technique on a module that I wrote for a large media organisation. The module focussed on how changes to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) were going to affect customer facing employees. Now, this kind of information is not the most riveting subject, hence the need to bring it to life. Based on this, I developed two characters, private investigators, who were to test employees on their way of working, in light of the changes to the APPs.

I began the process by writing thumbnail characterisations, giving the characters likes and dislikes and even a small amount of backstory to bring them to life. I also gave them a strong reason to be written into the module by developing connections between the characters and the content supplied by the client. The end result was a clear connection between the characters and the content and this is essential, otherwise the characters look like they’ve just been thrown in for the sake of it.

Once I had my characters connected to the content, I was able to write the storyboard using creative and critical thinking. It’s this blend of thought that allowed me to communicate information through a storytelling technique and maintain the balance between the creative and critical components. This balance is vital to education and it’s imperative that the two remain balanced if the process is going to work.

The final product was an engaging learning solution, which employed a storytelling device to transform rather turgid information into content that was more readily absorbed. The other elements that brought great value to the module were using a graphic novel format, voice over artists to play the characters, and the final ingredient was humour.

By using the tools of fiction to communicate information, we develop a more active way of looking at a topic, and for the learner, this addition raises the engagement of the experience. Storytelling is one of our most ancient arts and it should have a much stronger presence in the way we convey information in the workplace.