5 Features To Turn Your Online Course Into Interactive Storytelling
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How To Turn Your Online Course Into Interactive Storytelling

Students love the option to swipe left, right, and click for more information in their personal lives. Interactive storytelling presents content in an interesting way to encourage student engagement. With interactive storytelling, readers can choose to click on a video, or explore graphs or other data. Similar to a game, the user determines their path through the content by the choices they make. This supports the individuality of learners. And it increases learner interest and participation, aiding in the development of meaningful learning.

For example, in Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt (2013), NPR describes turning cotton into T-shirts, from the fields to the factory floor and all the way to the end user. The Planet Money interactive story begins with a short video, then viewers scroll to read information, chunked into chapters to make it easier to digest. Graphics are interspersed throughout the text to provide more information.

There are many benefits to using this method: Interactive storytelling allows content to be presented in a manner that is relevant to students’ lives, in a multimedia fashion, similar to the way students consume other online content (e.g., clicking on links, playing videos). It captivates learners, and as a result, enhances online learning.

Creating an Interactive Story

Creating an interactive story starts with developing a story about the content, then adding video, graphics, and other material to give learners an opportunity to explore the subject more deeply. The internet provides many resources to help facilitate this task. Below, we explain how to create an interactive story, highlighting examples from Planet Money, and providing links to helpful resources.

  1. Engaging narration.
    Narration, or the telling of a story, is the structural core of interactive stories. The narration must be developed in a manner that is powerful, focused, and resonates with the target learner. It is easier to remember content when it is thematically organized. In Planet Money, a simple T-shirt is used to provide viewers with information about people around the world and the economics of producing products in our global economy. Be creative! Educators can develop appealing stories around diverse content to help engage learners.
  2. Educational video.
    Interactive stories use video to draw readers in and capture their attention. In Planet Money videos allow viewers to meet workers across the globe who stitch t-shirts for the U.S. Videos appeal to viewers visually and inspire them to interact with the story tactilely; to stop, start, and review content. Online learners are more attentive to video than text. Educators can add videos to support the text in online courses and provide more information to learners. TeacherTube is an online community that provides teachers with a repository of educational videos. WatchKnowLearn.org also provides free educational videos, sorted by subject, age and grade level. Educators can use these resources to add life to their online courses.
  3. Colorful graphics.
    Interactive stories use colorful graphics, in the form of data visualization, to transform facts into pictures. Using color, shapes, maps and graphs in a simple manner helps learners digest large amounts of information. Data visualization is used in Planet Money to show minimum wage by country, transit times, and the number of t-shirts a bale of cotton will make. Graphics make these statistics more appealing to the viewer. To help distill information in online courses, educators can make charts using resources from the internet. Infogr.am is an application to help you make charts and infographics. Or educators can visit Datavisualization.ch for more advance tools for producing data visualizations.
  4. Multisensory additions.
    Interactive stories integrate text, graphics, audio, and video to stimulate multiple senses (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile, kinetic). In Planet Money, the viewer is greeted by videos of whirling machines, graphics featuring minimum wage by country, and Graphics Interchange Format (GIFs) of trains and crop dusters. Multisensory stories help students learn by involving both sides of the brain: the left side of the brain is focused on the details of the story, while the multisensory aspect stimulates the right side of the brain. The internet provides many multisensory options to integrate into online courses. The Internet Archive offers a database of free moving pictures, audio, text, music and software to add to online courses. Wikimedia Commons and WorldImages provide lots of free images and include a search option to make it easier to find specific subjects.
  5. Student interactive features.
    In Planet Money, viewers can stop and start videos and click on pictures of people wearing the finished t-shirt to discover more information. This interactivity allows users to control content and connect at different levels with different parts of the story. It also helps learners build their own knowledge in a productive manner. Active learners incorporate knowledge more quickly than passive learners. To increase interactivity online, educators can use hyperlinked words to provide definitions for viewers or hyperlinked numbers that lead to more information. Or educators can make YouTube videos interactive by adding clickable annotations (here is a helpful tutorial). For the more adventurous, Dipity is an application that educators can use to incorporate video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps onto timelines.

Challenges And Opportunities

Integrating interactive stories is promising, but it also presents challenges. Slow broadband may discourage learners from loading large files or cause learners to be impatient with the videos and other multimedia features. Students who primarily use their phones or a small tablet will not interact or view the story the same way as those on a personal computer.

Interactive stories require a balance: the experience should not overpower the content. Superfluous media sabotages learning. Interactive stories in online education must focus on educating, not entertaining.

It is important to evaluate students’ reactions and academic results after adding interactive storytelling to courses. Interactive storytelling is not about adding bells and whistles as catnip for learners, instead it represents a format to attract, engage, and deepen learning.

Connect Learners With Content

Interactive storytelling offers educators an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of online courses. With interactive storytelling, learners are able to explore course content in a manner that is personally motivating, constructing knowledge in an immersive fashion. Interactive stories have the potential to appeal to viewers, enliven content, and expand knowledge by transforming content to be more effective and engaging. Including even a few interactive story features can change a course from simply supplying information to becoming a powerful experience in which the student becomes immersed and greater learning is generated.

Ultimately, for learning to be effective, learners must be interested in the content. Allowing learners to see, hear, and click while reading content changes online courses to a format that is closer to other media learners consume online. This offers a positive change that can dramatically impact student engagement, knowledge gains, and the online learning experience.

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