Strange stories need new formats

Despite its’ relative youth (wiser readers than I will let me know the true age), eLearning has a traditional content format: the online course. There are many routes to the creation of a course but the final destination is pretty predictable: a pop-up window filled with linear content and often some rich video of some kind (a Flash kind very frequently, even now). The training industry has fed happily on this staple diet for many years. Whilst, the challenges of the LMS and the shortcomings of the content formats that SCORM supports are well documented, the fact that the public web has not seen the need to create a similar format is revealing. That content format and experience has had little if any utility value outside of corporate learning despite the constant experimentation in digital publishing over many years. I think this may be starting to change however, but not due to a rush of public interest in training modules.

As with many sectors, innovation in the L&D industry is rarely accomplished by incumbents. Interesting things are happening, however. New forms of storytelling are exploring different ways of treating complex topics and helping web users explore subjects that require more depth than a simple (yet very powerful) ‘how to video’ or a long form article. Journalism as a profession is making some interesting headway in the seemingly endless quest for new story formats.

Film makers are also circling this area in the hunt for new approaches. One such format is offered by Interlude. This tool was used by some colleagues at the BBC Academy who were interested in a new way of sharing the learning from the production of a recent TV drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The production itself was something of a departure and a typical video format (a series of interviews, perhaps) did not properly lend itself to the narrative or the broadcast result. Interlude looked like an interesting tool to use, allowing the video content to speak for itself and users to explore the content in their own way at their own pace. All within one web based video player.

Take a look at the result here and see what you think.

There are some clear merits I believe. The video is available on a web page, discoverable by search and browsing. The page can offer context and introductory information without boating the video itself. As a web page, social activity is natural and straightforward. The navigation is pretty simple and quite elegant. It reminded me of a ‘module’ without being cast into the LMS vaults or invading my browser by pop-up.

This is a new format however, and is not yet supported on iOS and Android, so mobile use is unavailable as yet. Embedding the content takes a little technical know-how but not a prohibitive amount. There is buffering to contend with too.

As with every tool, it does not solve every problem. It does, though, point in an interesting direction for exploring more complex topics and for helping us to learn how to tackle them.

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