What Does Good eLearning Have In Common With Good Movies?

What Does Good eLearning Have In Common With Good Movies?
Summary: You may not have realized it, but  eLearning and movies have many things in common. Both seek to captivate their audience and produce a memorable story, and both can fall flat if not produced correctly.

The Correlation Between Good eLearning and Good Movies

Have you watched a movie lately – a really good one? Were you enthralled? Couldn’t take your eyes off it? Luckily, I did have this experience the other day.  Like any other instructional design nerd, I immediately made the correlation between this marvelous movie experience and eLearning. In fact, I may go so far as to say that movies and eLearning share commonalities in their creation process and overarching theory of entertainment as well.

"Now, hold on there” you may be thinking. "Movies are purely for entertainment, while eLearning is more serious. It’s … well … learning.  No entertainment there!" However, what if I changed entertainment to engagement? Would that make a difference? Now we’re talking!

The fact is, whether we are making academic eLearning courses, professional online training packages, or blockbuster summer movies, we are basically trying to do the same things:

  1. Draw in the audience.
  2. Hold their attention for the duration of the learning event/movie.
  3. Make it memorable (i.e. retain the knowledge).

The commonalities don’t stop there. Read on, to see how the same techniques that entrance popcorn chugging moviegoers can be used to engross learners.

  1. Special Effects/Technology.
    Special audio and visual effects make movies larger than life. With the help of CGI, starships can fly and actors can make posthumous on screen appearances.  It’s obvious, technology can enhance some scenes – and that’s the key. It enhances not replaces a good story. The same can be said of  eLearning. Simply throwing flashy graphics and moving parts at the learner will not transfer knowledge. In fact, too much of it is distracting and can impede erudition.  Technology is a fabulously versatile tool to enrich learning, but it will fail to do so if used in an instructional vacuum.
  2. Story /Information Development.
    Have you ever watched a movie where characters were introduced, plot was explained, and intriguing twists were all delivered within the first five minutes? I doubt that such a film would get any thumbs up, and yet that’s prevalent in so many  eLearning modules.  The navigation system, objectives, and all the core knowledge required are dumped on the participant within the first five slides. Whatever happened to building suspense and making your own inferences? Scaffolding instruction during your eLearning course and providing information in context of its usage create opportunities for problem-based, and hence, constructivist learning.  A simple way to implement this is through branched learning. Official “story based learning” is picking up speed, and an increasing number of designers are teasing out real-life scenarios from their content experts during the early stages of development.  These strategies allow the student to experience the instruction actively instead of having it passively fed to them.
  3. Actors/Instructors.
    A good movie can be elevated with great acting. Replace movie and actor with class and instructor respectively, and the same holds true.  There’s an urban legend gaining momentum that eLearning has done away with the need for instructor presence, and every learner with a mobile device will become a grade A student.  I’ve already expressed my opinion that technology used in conjunction with excellent teaching is a powerful combination, but will not deliver the same results without guidance from the instructor. This does not always mean synchronous sessions or live TED talks every week (but that would be very cool). Instructors can also make their presence known by participating in online discussions or including feedback when they return graded assignments.
  4. Movie Poster/Marketing.
    The topic of marketing your eLearning courses to attract a wider audience may be more relevant to those in professional training. However, the overall concept of making your eLearning course more appealing to your audience is universal. Below is a depiction of a fictitious movie poster that outlines the similarities between marketing for entertainment and for learning:


You don’t have to be an Oscar winning director to create solid eLearning. Keeping it student-centered, interesting, and relevant will keep your learners coming back for more and help them learn the content more thoroughly – which is the ultimate goal.