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How Science Fiction Can Help Make Your eLearning Better

6 minutes

Science fiction can be a really powerful source of ideas for your eLearning. Joe Ganci, the president of eLearningJoe consulting and training company, shares his experience of using sci-fi inspired techniques to create truly engaging eLearning content.

Ideas often come long before inventions. Here’s a great example of this:

In October 1945, right after World War II, a young British officer published an article in Wireless World. In this article, he introduced the idea of putting satellites into space so that we can all talk to each other at any given time. Just like what we’re doing right now! Later, the world would recognize him as science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, author of – 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Science fiction is all about the future. At first, it seems to be pure fantasy. But very often, all these fantastic sci-fi things soon become a part of our everyday reality. For instance, here is a prophetic scene from Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi movie Minority Report released in 2002:

In the scene, the police use a gesture-based interface and video conferencing. It has come to pass within 15 years or even sooner that most of the ideas presented in Minority Report are now commonplace.

Present the material in the form of a story

The movies we see always include stories of some kind. The story is also very important in eLearning. Presenting your material in a story makes it much easier to come up with scenarios to help people learn. So don’t just focus on how the learner will acquire the skills, but also give the learner a reason why they should.

The benefits of a “What if?” scenario

Behind all good science fiction, there is a story starting with a “what if” question:

  • What if aliens landed on Earth?
  • What if we found a way for all of us to live forever?
  • What if we could go back in time and stop a war?

No matter how good the special effects in the science fiction movie are, if you don’t have a good story, you really have nothing. And that is absolutely true in eLearning as well.

“What if” questions are really effective at making a new thing outside of the normal ways we do things. That’s why we tend to practice using case-based scenarios. They really do help people, not just to learn new things, but also sometimes to unlearn bad things.

Identify the problem your learners are going to solve

A “what if” scenario usually leads to a problem that may occur as a result. We ask “what if,” and then we have to present what the problem is:

  • What if aliens landed on Earth and they are really mean and want to destroy us?
  • What if they found a way for us to live forever and the population increases exponentially?
  • What if we could go back in time and stop a war with unanticipated and terrible consequences?

The problem stems directly from the “what if” question. For instance, in the scenario, “What if aliens landed on Earth and they are really mean and want to destroy us,” the problem is that those mean aliens want to destroy us. We have identified the problem. Usually not difficult to identify in a science fiction story.

In most eLearning, people are told a lot of information, but they are not really told how to apply it. Before providing information dumps, give the learners an understanding of why they need to learn it. Help your learners to identify the problem so they are able to fix it.

Vary the interactions

The testing approach that is so often used in eLearning is really not the best way to go. It’s easy to do that, but it’s really not very effective.

Make sure they are not just answering multiple-choice questions. Try as much as possible to give the learners open-ended questions such as having them type an answer, or make them think about something, go look it up online and come back and report on it.

Make a quest: let your learners solve hard cases

In science fiction stories, humans are busy with overcoming obstacles or surviving issues: how to vanquish the aliens, how to fix a disruption in time that the bad guy caused, how to get from here to there without being eaten by a dinosaur, how to tell the difference between humans and imposters.

Remember, humans love to be challenged, so why not use the same approach for eLearning?

For instance, make your learners choose between conflicting obligations. They may not have a clear-cut answer all the time. Just as in real life, we may not choose the best answer, even though it’s not the wrong answer. Help people distinguish between good ideas and great ideas.

Remember, the best kind of approach is where people solving a challenge.

Stick to real-life rules

And, what if a story is well written, has an interesting plot, an interesting problem to solve etc., but in the end, all of a sudden some unknown superhero comes and saves everybody or solves the issue with the help of his superpowers?

The ancient Greeks had a special word to refer to a sudden turn of events, usually with one of the Greek gods introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot. They called it deus ex machina, which is translated as “God from the machine.”

Well, deus ex machina is not appropriate for an eLearning scenario. In other words, it would be breaking the rules if you presented a kind of superpower as a solution to a problem.

Remember, in eLearning, we should teach that real life has rules, and those rules need to reflect reality as closely as possible.

Use super cool technology

Super cool technology is the lifeblood of science fiction. In sci-fi we have faster-than-light ships, hoverboards, lightsabers, time machines, etc., but technology is also becoming more and more a part of eLearning.

For instance, we are starting to see a lot more virtual reality and augmented reality being introduced in eLearning. As an example, watch Microsoft’s presentation of Windows HoloLens, the device that is supposed to revolutionize education.

Another one is BIRD by MUV interactive. It is a small wearable that turns any space into an interactive playground.

Virtual reality 360 video puts you right inside the content, which is much better because it allows you to feel like you’re really experiencing it. The brain has a really hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality. If you do this enough times, your brain will be much more apt to know what to do in real life as well.

Like here, you can experience flying a jetliner from the pilot’s perspective.

Reward the achievements

At the end of science fiction stories, they often show you a very satisfying reward or conclusion. In eLearning, you should also let your learners know that they have succeeded, perhaps by advancing a level, getting a badge or certificate, and so on.

Make your learners proud of themselves!

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