The Engagement Economy: Social Learning, User Generated Content & LMS Gamification

Katrina Baker, the Senior Learning Evangelist, Adobe started with her definition of  “social learning”

-        Encourages communication and sharing among learners

-        Can be blended into any type of delivery format

-        Every learner is a teacher, collaborator, and in some cases a curator

 Learning technology promotes social learning through:

-        Discussion boards

-        Gamification. Gamification makes learners feel more empowered (and thus more intrinsically motivated) by being offered a range of courses, rather than a few that somebody else has determined they must take.

-        User generated content workflows (ties into gamification in some cases, for example by letting users earn points through curation and different activities such as sharing their knowledge). Since the L&D staff can’t possibly know everything an organization needs, it can be helpful to create a framework so everybody can share knowledge.

-        Motivation through reward, both tangible and intangible (badges give us a way to recognize an accomplishment, and a community that recognizes it)

 For a reward to serve as motivation, the learner has to want it. Obvious, but important. Ones mentioned by the audience:

-        Coffee

-        Cash

-        Free food

-        Give-aways

-        Upper mobility/opportunities

-        Time off

-        Employment

-        Education

-        Certification

-        Continuous system access (revoking privileges)

-        Bragging rights

-        Access to your workplace


-        Have metadata associated with them (course, name of learner, when learned etc.)

-        Are portable – can be displayed on social media platform

-        Open badges is a Mozilla created standard for badges

-        Badgr – intermediary between learning platform and social media site (so badges you earn can display on the social media site)

 Creating your intentional design for social learning. Tailor the approach to what you are trying to accomplish, using such things as:

-        Users groups

-        Courses or learning programs

-        Points levels

-        The behaviors being rewarded

-        Other social learning elements.


1.     There is often resistance to social learning – try for a little victory with the learners you will have most success with (as a prototype) to then sell to your target learners.

2.     Don’t make it too hard to achieve something tangible – receiving rewards more quickly will build and maintain engagement. When you are using a competency-based model and you have different levels it gives them something to aim for.

3.     A paper certificate of the badge is a nice option – people like to have it to show off or prove/document their participation.

4. is a free way to build games, one audience member finds it great for new hire training

5.     Sales organizations have found gamification – a natural fit for a lot of their (naturally competitive) learners.

6.     Escape rooms, RPGs and treasure hunts are popular frameworks for gamification in the audience.

7.     Some learners enjoy the friendly competition of leaderboards that let you see how many points everybody has, and what level you are all at.

8.     You can also give extra rewards for tasks being accomplished early (or even on time if that’s an issue).

9.     Very hard to get SMEs who have to earn billable hours involved (doctors, lawyers). A mentorship program is one way that might work in such organizations.

Create Scenario-Based Training

Ray Jimenez, the Chief Learning Architect of Vignettes Learning shared tips and reasons for creating scenarios in training.

A scenario triggers a story in the learners’ minds featuring themselves. It allows the learners to bring in their own stories. (remember, it’s not your story that you are telling, it’s their story.) Scenario based learning can be so compelling that learners sometimes revisit their mistakes even after passing just to satisfy their curiosity about what could have happened.

Tension, challenge and choice gives ownership to the learner and help them emotionally engage, forcing them to reflect and explain to themselves why they made that choice. Tension puts people off balance, and they have to do something to resolve it. Scenarios help move people from one situation to another – go on a journey to a place you want to take them. They provide a safe way to make choices and discoveries. Scenarios create expectations and accountability. They help learners connect abstract concepts to real life.

Don’t do scenarios unless you can use tension, challenge and choice. They don’t make sense for all situations, especially when you have to assess with multiple choice. Put reasonable limits in terms of the number of choices and time it takes. Otherwise it gets too expensive and complicated.

Don’t put in a speaker or lecturer to tell the learner what they need to do, this just takes them out of the story, as will interrupting participants interacting with character or story to provide an insight, resource etc.

The scenario does the teaching, so you don’t have to say “right” or “wrong”. In real life there is no voice in the sky that says “right” or “wrong”. But you do experience consequences from your choices.

Some traits of good scenario material:

·      Relevant

·      Emotional

·      Tragic

·      Shocking

·      “You know the problem without having to state it”

·      Generates questions why

·      Tells a story

·      You want to know how to avoid it happening to you

How to Develop Online Soft Skills Training Part 2

Once you’ve done the analysis detailed in last week’s post you can start to develop out your scenarios and the flow of the lesson. Scenarios where users can make choices are so much more effective for knowledge retention and transfer than just telling the learner something.

She uses Adobe sketch to map out scenarios. It’s easy and free, but only works on an iPad. You can do the same thing in PowerPoint with hot spots to different spots, then import in Captivate (or other systems). Define what the storyboard is for and how detailed it needs to be for your stakeholders. It can be a lot of work to put things in a storyboard that you know you are going to use anyway.

1.     Start with the problem.

2.     Provide some content about the problem so they feel they are learning something.

3.     Present the scenario.

a.      It’s very important that your scenario has believable and relatable characters.

b.     Charlie Brown is an example, he fails, but he keeps trying and learning and you want him to succeed.

c.      The learner becomes like the coach who guides them.

d.      SMEs should be able to give you realistic scenarios to work with.

4.     Branch to three choices with feedback.

5.     Present a second scenario. This one should be similar but a little harder to reinforce the learning. Also if the person just guessed the first time it gives them another chance to actually think it through.

6.     Then review the material.

7.     Then final assessment if required.

a.      Multiple choice tests, while easy, are ineffective, as people can be great test takers, but miserable at doing and vice versa.

b.     She encourages “Authentic assessments” that examine the learner’s ability in a real world context. This promotes better transfer back to the job.

c.      Assessments can be as simple as the learner making the best choice of three options after presented with a scenario. If students are struggling you can customize and give more until they make the correct choices.

8.     But the learners’ responses to the scenarios could also be seen as measurable assessments.

9.     This structure allows you to “sneak in” more content, especially for those who give wrong answers. 

Highlights from the 2019 Adobe eLearning Conference

In addition to great food and a hilarious keynote speech by Andrew Tarvin on using humor in the workplace I attended several very interesting presentations that I’ll post over the upcoming weeks.

My first session was Create Soft Skill Training with Jean Marrapodi, PhD, CPLP Chief Learning Architect, Applestar Productions.

Soft skills training is difficult because it attempts to teach behavior instead of knowledge and is not measurable. A lot of soft skills training is about observing what works in real life. 

 How to Develop Online Soft Skills Training – Part 1

 1.     Know where you are going and why (the who, what, when, where and how). Too many people think eLearning development is just about chunking up content and making it look pretty.

2.     Invest in discovering what the actual problem is -why are they asking you to do this? Make the client articulate what is behind the request.

a.      For example: “we need training on communication” – so many things could be behind that, so you need to ask – is it:

i.     Conflict?

ii.     Nobody is picking up the phone?

iii.     Poor listening?

iv.     Something hit the fan?

v.     Something else entirely?

3.     Figure out how this issue is impacting the business.

4.     What will the KPI (key performance indicator) be?

5.     Refine the question of “What do they need to know and do?” down to a single sentence. “Our learners will know X and be able to Y. She really focuses on working with SMEs to get it to one sentence, if she can’t the problem is not defined enough. Sometimes you have to throw your best guess together to give them something to bounce off of and help them figure it out. That one sentence gives you a goal, and also a way to fight scope creep and help focus people.

6.     Determine how will we know that they know and can do it? This requires research, finding scenarios etc. to get the right content to apply to the situation.

7.     Determine how will they know that they know and can do it? People need confidence to actually do and apply what they’ve learned. How sure is the learner of their ability to apply what they have learned?

8.     How do you know they know that they know and can do it?  It can be helpful for them to see what happens when they fail and what consequences are.

9.     Build the framework before you build the content.

10.   She always uses simple mindmaps. That one sentence you created is the goal. From the goal you usually have a few outcomes. The outcomes are supported by your objectives. The goal is “now”, the outcomes are “later” (i.e. things they will be able to do in the future).

11.   Only once you’ve clarified goals, outcomes and objectives should you build out content and activity.

12.   Always focus on the learners’ WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

Join us next for Dr. Marrapodi’s approach to developing scenarios.

Presenter Tips from the Conference

From personal experience I know that creating a good in-person presentation can be both time-consuming and draining. Here’s a couple tips I learned:

  1. One presenter used an easy way to assess the audience in the beginning by having them rate themselves on familiarity with gamfication –who falls between 1-3, 4-7, 8-10 to easily assess audience - can be done by raising hands .

  2. Another recommended starting a presentation with “I would like you to take this journey with me . . . “ and then describing the beginning of a project and its challenges as away to make your training more of a story that engages the audience.

Sententia Gamification: Gamification for Talent Development: Deconstructing the Psychology of Games to Entice, Engage, and Encourage Learners

Dr. Jonathan Peters, Chief Motivational Officer shared his contagious enthusiasm for bringing more gamification to learning. Key takeaways:

  • Entice, engage and encourage (them to take learning from game space to work space).

  • Hard, because our brains associate the learning with whatever environment it happens in.

  • Gamification is motivational design. It deconstructs game atribures to drive game-like player behavior ina non-game context.

  • “saying motivation design” instead helps with people who think their work is too serious for games

  • Loyalty programs are a type of gamification – not necessarily fun, but using game mechanics to drive behavior

  • When designing, we tend to create experiences we enjoy. But we need to know what our learners consider to be “fun”.

  • Most studies done on college students, because they are cheap - however may not be representative

  • With many games, they may have more fun, but outcomes aren’t any better. Maybe the mechanics don’t resonate with them (badges, points etc.)

  • GAMES Design Method:

    • G oal

    • A dventure

    • M ethod

    • E ngagement

    • S ync-it

  • They train people in gamification – apprentice, journeyman, master craftsman.

  • One fun example was a game to train employees about something they considered boring. In it Terry turkey has no feathers, every question you answer gets him a feather. If you don’t get at least 22/25 feathers turkey explode. Most people did it twice just to see him explode.

  • Different player types, according to Richard Bartle

  • Killers – focus on winning, rank, and direct peer-to-peer competition, engaged by leaderboards and ranks (it’s not enough for them to win, they want to watch you die)

  • Achievers – attaining status and achieving preset goals quickly and completely

  • Socialites – focus on socializing and a drive to develop a network of friends and contacts – newsfeeds, friends list, chats

  • Explorer – focus on exploring

  • Dr Peters discussed the Reiss Motivational Profile, which is an empirically based taxonomy of human needs and desires culled from a huge data set, cultures from 4 continents. We all have because they move our genes forward. I would like to know more about this, and wonder whether cultural conditioning and gender expectations play a role in who and how people prioritize and display these traits:

    • Acceptance

    • Beauty

    • Curiosity

    • Eating

    • Family

    • Honor

    • Idealism

    • Independence

    • Order

    • Physical activity

    • Power,

    • Saving

    • Social contact

    • Status

    • Tranquility

    • Vengeance

Instructional Designers: Change Agents and Leaders

Key takeaways from Dr. Carla Lane’s presentation:

1. It can be invaluable to either work with a program evaluator, or become your own program evaluator. Keep evaluating every few months.

2. Sequence of change agent roles

1.     develop a need for change

2.     establish an information exchange relationship

3.     diagnose problems

4.     create an intent to change in the client (s)

5.     translate an intent into action

6.     stabilize adoption and prevent discontinuance

7.     achieve a terminal relationship

3. There is really so much an instructional designer needs to do nowadays. Field is finally coming into its own, becoming a real profession.

4. Both Training magazine and elearning magazine frequently offer all kinds of virtual seminars to aid professional development.

5. Highly recommends reading Diffusion of Innovation by Everett Rogers, particularly Chapter 9 on becoming a change agent.

6. The recent tax cut has caused many education and training budgets to be reduced drastically. These budgets are always the first thing to be cut.

7. Trying to convince the mass of a new idea is useless. Convince innovators and early adopters first. Usually about 25% of learners are innovators 25%, and 13.5%  early adopters.

8. People don’t resist change. They resist people trying to change them.

9. “The problem with being a professor these days is that you can’t make a living working at one university, you have to work for two or even three”. Dr. Lane works at Cappella University and teaches elsewhere.

10. In earlier times classes started slowly to ease the students into the routine. Now they are moving towards hitting the ground running, especially in establishing and communicating expectations early on.

11. Blackboard and moodle have some mobile options.

12.  At Cappella they don’t test anymore, but focus more on projects, assignments, and providing foundational reading.

13. “There are a lot of students who don’t like working together. You probably have a lot of employees who don’t like to work together”.

14. It is hard to get supervisor to invest in training, especially these days. A lot of people she asked to attend could not get supervisors to agree. They saw no value in a conference, or at least not worth even losing a day of work, much less the other expenses. She said they called it a “symposium” instead of a “conference” for this reason.

NASA Goddard Distance Learning Models

1. NASA has 500 interns each summer and one person to manage them. Responding to all their emails would be overwhelming, so they started a college intern portal with Blackboard’s Coursesites, which is free. Free was important, since their budget is low. Students can’t self-register, they enroll them.

The site works well for interns to find roommates, discuss housing options, share pictures, submit their paperwork deliverables, and see a calendar of their mandatory training and events. It also allows them to get feedback through surveys of interns and download reports and track an intern’s progress.

2. Goddard also provides distance learning for educators to get up to speed for STEM content needs. NASA staff learning is done in a separate department.

3. They use the ADDIE framework. The analysis phase involves both needs assessment and goal setting. They really work with school districts so that they come to NASA with their needs, instead of NASA trying to guess what they want and need. For example, New Jersey came to them with a need for more content about sustainability, so they created it.

4. Their design phase includes:

·      Learning objectives

·      Nasa mission and content

·      SME

·      Assessment instruments

·      Media selection

5. Their most common modes of training are 60- 90 minute webinars that are pretty passive learning, and “webshops”. Webshops are for professional development and last 6-7 hours. They are often held on the professional development day of school. An instructor goes over content available and demos hands on activities and ways to engage with students.

6. They used to do more in person training, but that is being replaced by online. They use a range of free tools, focusing on whatever technology their users are most comfortable with (or will work within existing firewalls and other constraints).

She primarily uses adobe connect for webinars and webshops, but also vidyo, Skype, zoom, Google hangouts, Facebook and Ustream.

7. Webinar software allows the option to comment on technical difficulties, and provide feedback on how useful the content was, which they try to use. They can also see looks at analytics from registration and who/how long people attend live seminars or watch recorded ones. However, it’s hard for them to really collect data on individuals “gotten their hands slapped by the lawyers several times”. Even for the interns, hard to track whether they are getting jobs etc.

8. They have some programs where they offer “badges” as “microcredentials” to show expertise on certain topics.

Learning Styles . . . An Incoherent Notion? What the Research Reveals

Dr. Jolly Holden’s view that learning styles are an incoherent notion, and finding what motivates learners is far more effective really resonated with me.

In his presentation he asserted, “The concept of learning styles in predicting learning outcomes is a commonly misunderstood concept when designing content. While the perception is people learn better when information is presented in their preferred learning style, current evidence has not confirmed this”. Visual/Auditory/Kinesetic (VAK) is not a style, but a modality. The bottom line is that  “humans are multi-sensory” in that the brain performs several activities at once when processing information. Learning (retention) is generally independent of the modality used to acquire whatever is learned.

Some misperception that the media used affects retention, often illustrated erroneously and incorrectly by the Cone of Experience, which is too general, doesn’t take into account individual learners and their motivations, the quality of the content, and is not backed by any sort of evidence based verification.

Learning styles provide no indication of what the student are capable of. What is most important is motivation, ideally intrinsic motivation. Don’t stereotype your students and limit them. Students can learn from something scrawled on a “greasy old paper bag” if they are motivated.

Gamification for Leadership Development - Adelle Dantzler, M.S.Ed

A game involves engaging in a challenge, defined by rules, that have a quantifiable outcome, with interactivity and feedback. Simple example – in 10 seconds, list 3 countries that begin with U.

Game mechanic elements – constructs of rules or methods designed for interaction with the game.

Gamification – motivation design. The use of game elements and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage learners and solve problems.

Recommends Karl Kapp’s two texts:

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice

GAO had a customized, but off-the-shelf curriculum for leadership which focused on standard competencies – influence, team-building, coaching, integrity etc. They wanted to make it more practical and relevant for their leaders, with more relevant scenarios, reflection and action planning. Audience analysis revealed they didn’t want role-playing.

Virtual leadership curriculum that they developed:

  • 9 webinars

  • Before webinars learners do pre-course resource exploration and scenarios

  • No lecturing in the webinar. Goal of webinars was to:

o   Review scores

o   Delve into resources for rationale

o   Discuss application of principles to situations

o   Create action plan

  • Goal:  Relevance and usefulness

  • Biggest challenge was motivation – how to motivate them to learn about an abstract concept like “accountability”

  • Design instruction and game play elements together

    • Create player persona – motivation of learner, characteristics and desired behavior (audience analysis)

    • Really figure out desired behavior change

      • How can they use those principles in their work situations?

      • What is current behavior?

      • What is desired behavior?

      • What is the gap? (be specific, write it down, test your understanding with others).

    • Needs to be reflected in objectives

    • Build in Level 2 Kirkpatrick evaluation

“if there’s no linkage to the performance goal, it’s just fun” – always ask yourself “will using a game encourage the learner to interact with the content and achieve a learning goal?”

United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) – Dr. Reggie Smith

Key takeaways from Dr. Smith’s presentation on the United States Distance Learning Association:

  • USDLA has been around from 1987.

  • Stakeholders includes those in Higher ed, K-12, home school, telehealth.

  • Many people think online education is just for kids, and only in rural areas.

  • Some tests show that “boomers” do better with distance learner than teenagers, perhaps since adult learners may pay more attention. So don’t generalize by age.

  • Distance learning includes a wide range of things,

Learning Engagement Platforms

One participant introduced the concept of a learning engagement platform – not an LMS that requires highly skilled administrators to create and update courses, which is usually quite time-consuming. I’d be curious to hear from somebody who actually saw an effective one in use. I truly believe that the highest level of mastery of a subject is to be able to teach it. However, I would worry about the quality, and also any possible viewpoint that the work of instructional designers can be easily replaced.

According to

. .  . the Learning Engagement Platform is designed to allow anyone to create course material and launch a training course in a very short amount of time with little to no training because the LEP includes an integrated cloud-based authoring tool. We’re talking Operations Managers, Sales Reps, Front Of House Staff, and Chief Baristas: anyone in your organization who has expert knowledge will be given chance to share their knowledge and shine. Those best suited for creating these trainings will finally be empowered to do so, without being limited by the chain of command or time constraints of the past. . . . The LEP was created to be used in conjunction with an LMS, not instead of. Learning Engagement Platforms are designed to integrate with existing LMSs so that none of your existing content is gone to waste. The combination of the two will allow for your existing process to remain in place while enabling your internal Subject Matter Experts to begin initiating elective training simultaneously.

Peace Corps - E-Learning at the Peace Corps: A Moodle Deployment Story and Lessons Learned

For the Peace Corps, eLearning is a critical enabling technology supporting the growth of a culture of continuous learning, and a key component of agency knowledge management.

They use an iceberg metaphor where there are a few “above the water” formal learning efforts (, webinars, and their online learning), but underneath are many aspects of informal learning such as YouTube.

Their first LMS was in 2010. There were two separate learning management systems – one for volunteers and one for staff. They decided to upgrade and merge the two.

It is important to have a vision about what you are trying to accomplish with eLearning. For the Peace Corps it was a commitment for all staff and volunteers to be able to learn, grown, and support the mission to the best of their ability and collaboratively work across the agency to promote a global culture of continuous learning. The new LMS was intended to be less about compliance and more about being mobile friendly, and creating learning paths and competency frameworks.

They created a two-minute video for kick off to explain/motivate. Implementation was stressful and complicated, developed a commitment to “radical candor”. An online team space critical to focusing on work, not the meetings.

Deciding on the URL name was a complicated process of hearing from all the stakeholders. Settting up an SSL cert was quite complicated as well.

They wanted a single sign-on (SAML-SSO) for staff so they wouldn’t need passwords. They couldn’t offer this to volunteers accessing the system remotely, so instead set it up so that they could have one click sign-on through their social media accounts such as Facbook, Google, Microsoft, Linkedin or Instagram.

An LMS is a “living system” that evolves all the time.

“Digital Learning Week” with lots of training and presentations to let people know what is happening. Webinars and other events to show its’ appeals.

Invest as much time as you can for buy-in for all stakeholders. Creating a working group that engaged key stakeholders. Use whatever networks you can to continue the communities of practice. Find your superusers, embrace them and lift up their voice. – your chief promoters, eLearning rock stars.

Continued to use their help desk.  Courses range from 20 minutes to 27 months, depending on content and purpose. 27 month a TOEFL certification course for volunteers.

Mercy Medical Center: Developing a Band of Excellence through Gamification - Nurse Onboarding

I was quite inspired by Dr. Stacey Brull, Senior Director of Research, Education and Informatics. Her presentation showcased remarkably effective, but relatively simple games made with Storyline and free online software. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Going to gaming was a slow process, from traditional print materials, video, and eLearning before.

  • Gaming is a huge market. 63% of mobile gamers are female, and many play daily. Most are adult. So a nice match with their target audience (nurses).

  • From Simple to Complex

    • Plug and play games – easy, online, download, put your questions and content in. can set up in an hour, looks good.

      • C3softworks. created a games on how to mop a floor, wash hands properly etc. for staff. Had slot machine, questions, points. Went over well.

      • Classcraft – learners create an avatar, competed with other teams. More for K-12 but worked for this purpose

      • Goodsechase – scavenger hunt. They are in teams, have missions where they have to take photos of various things (specific staff members, policies ) and upload

      • Kahoot! – questions, people compete against others in the room, can see how others do

    • Customized games

      • games made with authorizing software to customize – such as articulate or captivate

      •  “strike-out stroke” – play the game, take a quiz through a QR code

    • Gamification

      • putting game like thing into a non-game context

      • getting points, “level-up”, put you on a leaderboard

      • they like to give prizes – not expensive things, but people are motivated by receiving things

    • Immersive gaming

      Their original program was 5 days of orientation – in a classroom costly and not effective. Cognitive overload.

    • Now a game with islands to visit (World of Salus), content areas, they can take competency test, but everyone actually likes to visit the content area and not just take the test. Learners can go to as many “knowledge objects” as they want, but do have to take all the competency tests.

    •  Another about leadership styles, where they can learn more about their leadership style with cards they can pick

  • Nurses are more competitive then she thought, they will do the knowledge objects over and over to get higher and higher on the leaderboard.

  • Staff loved it, reviewed favorably.

  • Quantatively, they could compare at LMS group, classroom group and gamification group and gamification group scored higher on all content tests.

  • Could see how much money was saved.

  • Article in the journal of nursing admin.

  • Virtual reality

    • just at the cusp of this

    • crash cart blitz – how to respond to emergency codes quickly without having to practice on patients in crisis (not really feasible).

    •  Video news report on mindgrub

  • VR can be used on hospitalized patients to send them to a peaceful world that calms them down and reduces pain scores.

A Dream Conference for Simone

As someone who is both an instructional designer and a video maker, I was delighted to learn that Winter 2018’s Government Video Expo had added a Learning Technology Symposium. Here’s are some key takeaways from some of the panels I attended, which I’ll dribble out on a weekly basis.

The Importance of Making Distance Learning Accessible to All

1. ALT text is the brief description of an image on a website or online learning that is revealed by accessibility devices if provided. It is “absolutely critical” and should include at least what is depicted, and ideally more description if the image shows a process or other concept.

2. Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) were first developed for the web, and are now being adapted for elearning. They are now at version 2.0, but still a work in progress, and not fully implemented.

3. Internet browsers (chrome, explorer etc.) are guided by “user agent accessibility guidelines” so that they will correctly display content that is developed with WCAG guidelines.

4. As a designer, you need to be taking them into account in:

a.     The e-learning authoring tools you choose

b.     The actual courses you design

c.      Any templates you create

d.     The LMS (note – moodle is theoretically best on accessibility, but “nobody uses it”)

e.     Any options the subject matter expert or learner has to create content.

5. When saving to PDF, make sure you meet PDF UA requirements. These are like WCAG, but somewhat stronger and designed to be relevant to PDF technology.

6. offers free courses and certification.

Webinar: Power of Story with Dr. Jonathan Peters, Chief Motivational Officer of Sententia Gamification

Key Takeaways from this 12/5/18 Webinar:

1. A story is at the most basic level, just “cause and effect”. This is how we get superstitions - I danced, and it rained.

2. When looking at the course of human history, we learned language relatively late, and reading even later. Taking tests to verify knowledge is a relatively recent development, and perhaps not what our brains were really evolved to do.

3. Our goal as learning designers is to entice, engage, and encourage our learners.

4. Stories help the learner relate to the instructor and the material - especially as an introduction.

5. Dr. Peters demonstrated this technique with a story about a training he had to do in business grammar where the audience was at first bored, then distracted by a much more interesting adjacent presentation. This is a situation that would be very related to an audience of trainers.

6. This particular type of story is called “a mess to success” story.

7. Story is a way for us to store information, retrieve it and share it.

8. You can use common stories, many of which are in public domain. But be aware of copyright. Dr. Peters gave an example of a team member who had to re-design a boring training about wage garnishment and payroll deductions. Created a “Snow White” story with characters who represented the seven dwarves and the hunter without using the precise title “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.

9. When telling a story that doesn’t relate to the learners experiences, use analogies and metaphors so that their learners’ brains will make connections and fill in the gaps. Perth Australia is like San Diego etc.

10. No matter how good your training - the “water cooler” will always be more powerful. Story telling is hard-wired into our brains.

11. When we tell stories, scientists are seeing certain chemicals released in the brain. Examples include the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline, and/or endorfins, dopamine and oxytocin. However, different people have different levels of receptors for these various brain chemicals. For example, sociopaths don’t have oxytocin receptors, so they are unmoved by stories of suffering. This is all a new field of research, with much to be discovered.


ARCS Model for Motivation

Motivation is an important component of design; the groups of participants who have a range of individual preferences, abilities, and altitudes often complicate it. Motivated learners become active and curious, which has a positive effect on their performance. The ARCS model provides a framework for incorporating motivational techniques throughout a lesson.

1. Attention - Capture participants' interest and stimulate an attitude of inquiry. For example: ask questions; use emotional or personal information; create a mental challenge; use human-interest examples.

2. Relevance - Make the instruction relevant to the learners' needs and goals. Match the instruction to the learning styles and personal interests of the learners. Tie in the instruction to the learners' experience and help them to see the relevance.

3. Confidence - Build in learners a positive expectation of success. Make sure that the learning experience helps learners to display competence and success as a result of their efforts and abilities. It should be an achievable rather than overwhelming learning experience.

4. Satisfaction - Encourage and support their intrinsic enjoyment of the learning experience, as well as providing extrinsic rewarding consequences for their successes. Also build a perception of fair treatment. Reinforce the learning by providing useful and fair feedback.

Getting your film into the classroom (and other educational settings)

Part 1. Introduction

Making an independent documentary involves many decisions. The filmmaker should really think through what they want the documentary to accomplish before they start shooting. If the documentary might be used in the classroom or other educational setting, then planning for the educational market should be integrated into all phases of production.

As filmmakers ourselves, we at NerdsMakeMedia understand how overwhelming independent documentary filmmaking can sometimes be. It often takes much more time and resources then originally intended. Most documentary makers don’t want to think about how the film will reach its audience until after it has finally been completed and submitted to festivals. Unfortunately, film festivals are sometimes the only plan.

This paradigm is sorely in need of an update. A clear educational strategy can have financial yields for select films.1 For others, it could mean greater impact for the film, with it reaching more of the kind of audience the filmmaker is seeking.2 Therefore, filmmakers should seriously think about whether this is a possible path for their film before a single frame is shot.

Not all documentaries are, or can be made suitable for the classroom. However, if this is something you are considering for your film, you should ideally consult an educational specialist who can provide guidance about the topics that teachers are teaching these days, and ways they are incorporating video into the curriculum.

It is also in the interest of documentary filmmakers as a whole to reach a greater number of younger viewers. The more exposure to high quality, engaging non-fiction stories kids get in the classroom, the more supportive of them they will be later in life.

A very small percentage of filmmakers are fortunate enough to secure significant funding from major sponsors such as PBS or NEH. Part of that support will include the educational component. However, for the majority of independent filmmakers the following considerations are offered. These will include ideas for how to craft the documentary itself, as well as suggestions for possible supplemental educational materials to support use of the documentary for learning.

Part 2. Things to think about as you shoot and edit the documentary (and how an educational consultant may help you at this point)

The first way an educational consultant may be useful is that they can help you to start strategizing about possible educational outreach very early on. Having some sort of educational strategy will make you more attractive to potential funders. Funding organizations are increasingly concerned with measurable outcomes and will often be reassured that you have given some thought to (and are budgeting for) education and reaching students. Even in a crowdfunding campaign, some donors will be impressed that you are already thinking about how to engage this audience. Being affiliated with someone who has recognized expertise early on can add credibility to the project and help secure other endorsements.

An expert may also be able to provide guidance and ideas that can shape the kind of interview questions you ask, footage you shoot, length of the film (or films) you edit, etc. As a filmmaker, you are thinking primarily about how to best tell the story. Somebody with an educational background will give you a different perspective, one on how the film can be used as a educational tool that has enough “teaching moments” to be useful in the classroom and connect to the standards that need to be taught that year (Rekkas, 2016).

Does this mean that you will have to sacrifice the quality of your story? Absolutely not. Documentary filmmakers are already familiar with the idea of a 90 minute “festival length version” and a 52 minute “broadcast length version”. Given the way media is consumed these days, filmmakers need to also be thinking about other shorter lengths that would be more useful for teachers and other educators to use. The documentary American Promise is feature length, but also has an 80-minute version, and a 35-minute version for youth. The filmmakers also often use clips for educational purposes.3 In addition, for individual screenings they will often work with hosts to determine which are the best clips for the audience (Jones, 2015).

These are some examples of different lengths to consider. In general, 10 - 30 minutes is a good length for classrooms because it allows for time for discussion afterwards. For some classes even 30 minutes could be long, considering that in some schools 45-minute classes are the norm, and the films would need proper introduction and closure activities (Rekkas, 2016). However, some teachers are willing to use longer films, either by showing a film over more than one class, screening one DVD chapter for each class (Schier, 2011) or assigning the film to view as homework.

In addition to having different lengths, different versions can have different focuses and content. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s documentary Kuma Hina features a transgender woman who is an honored and respected kumu, or teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader in her native Hawaii. They also created A Place in the Middle that serves as a shorter companion piece. It focuses on the story of one of Kuma Hina’s 11 year old students and tells it in a manner better suited for the early grades (A Place in the Middle, 2015).

A third thing an expert might be helpful for is to give you a better sense of whether your topic is actually a good fit for the educational market at all. Some films fill a niche or need and are eagerly anticipated by teachers; others simply won’t be. Good preliminary research should always be done to make sure that your film is as unique as you originally had thought. However, it is not enough for a film to be unique to be useful in the classroom. Somebody with educational expertise will be able to give you a sense of whether your film will be a good fit for the curricula and subjects teachers are teaching these days. Knowing what kind of film you have beforehand will affect how you eventually go on to distribute your film. This will not only maximize whatever money you can make from it, but save you much time not spent going down the wrong path (Dancoff, 2013).

Academic or institutional pricing is simply charging more money for a film based on the fact that many more people will see the film then a single user, and the filmmaker should be compensated for this fact. While some institutions will purchase a film at retail price if that option is available, others have the budget and habit of purchasing the institutionally licensed copy when offered. If your film is a very good fit for the educational market and doesn’t have broader appeal it might make sense to start by only selling at a higher academic price and target this market aggressively until it is tapped out. Afterwards you could make a version available at a retail price. While it never hurts to always offer a version at an institutional rate, for other films it might make more sense to immediately offer a retail version as well to take advantage of interest among the public before it cools down (Dancoff, 2013).

If your original version contains some profanity or other material that might prevent an otherwise useful film from getting into the classroom, consider making a "G rated" version. In fact, this might be a good way to drive institutions to purchasing the academic version when you also want to have a retail version available for the general public.

Part 3. Creating educational supporting materials to encourage use of the film in education.

Hiring an education professional to create supplemental materials may run between $4,000 - $10,000, depending on what is produced. We suggest that this should be part of most initial budgets even if you later need to focus on other priorities instead.

There is a real range of supporting educational materials that can accompany a film – from a very simple one-page sheet of a few discussion questions to an extensive curriculum that spreads over several days. In between those two extremes there are a number of other options of varying length and complexity. Unfortunately, there is little consistency in how they are named and what they include (Seavey, 2011).

Also, it must be understood that social issue documentary films often have a goal beyond just educating the audience – more than just “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”. Rather, the goal is for that new perspective to lead towards action or social change. Therefore many educational materials created for documentary film may actually be a blend of education and outreach/community engagement advice. For the purposes of this paper, we are going to ignore the outreach component, although we see it frequently in all of the following types of products we have found being offered with documentaries:

  1. Description of the guide itself (“About this guide”) – tells the purpose of the guide, how it supports using the primary scenes and subject of the film for educational purposes etc.
  1. Discussion questions – as the title implies, a list of questions to help inspire discussion. As long as they are well focused, there can be as few as 5 for this to be useful to an educator (Schier, 2011)
  1. Supplemental activities. Examples include:
    • Worksheets to fill out before, during or after a film
    • Anticipation Guides - a list of statements that support or challenge the viewers preconceived ideas about key concepts that will be presented. These can be placed in a worksheet where students can note whether they agree or disagree with the statement, both before and after viewing the film (All About, 2016)4
    • Other questionnaires about the students’ pre-existing knowledge or attitudes
    • Games or other student activities
    • Ideas for student-led additional research
    • Etc.
  1. Additional resources (may be called a “Resource Guide” or “Learn More”). Examples include:
    • Links to additional websites to learn more
    • List of supplemental literature to consult (both primary and secondary sources) – considered very valuable by teachers (Rekkas, 2016)
    • Etc.
  1. Summary of the film – story and characters
  1. Character biographies – more in-depth information about the characters
  1. Background information (also called an “Introduction”) – additional political and/or historical or other contextual information not in the film itself - also considered very helpful by many teachers (Rekkas, 2016).
  1. Epilogue or Update (what happened to characters or situation after film was completed)
  1. Director’s statement
  1. Actual resources:
    • Charts and statistics
    • Infographics
    • Checklists
    • Maps (possibly interactive)
    • List of vocabulary and/or definitions
    • Timelines of events (possibly interactive)
    • Other tools5
  1. Explanation of how the resource aligns to state or national educational standards (such as Common Core, National Council for Social Studies etc.6)
  1. A Discussion (or Facilitator’s) guide - in some cases this is really little more than discussion questions, but in others may include some combination of all of the above. In our opinion, a true “discussion” or “facilitator’s” guide should, as the name implies, at least provide some sort of guidance on how to conduct and manage the discussion. This might not be necessary for an experienced educator, but potentially valuable for those without a teaching background called upon to present educational films in other settings. These guides may include:
    • Icebreakers
    • Things to say
    • Things not to say
    • How to manage possible “traps” in the discussion (i.e. people who talk to long, try to derail or monopolize the conversation etc.)
    • How to structure the conversation
    • How to manage time
    • Study, Screening , Educator’s or Teacher’s Guides, Toolkits and Fact Sheets – these vary most in length and offerings. In general they will include some combination of the above.7
    • Curriculums/lesson plans – while understanding of these terms varies, they generally are a fairly complete guide on how to conduct a class or training, covering “what students need to learn and how it will be done effectively during the class time”. They include learning objectives, learning activities and strategies or methods to check student understanding (Milkova, 2015).

Some feel that offering a curriculum/lesson plan might be the most appealing since they provide such well thought out guidance and precise steps to follow that little preparation work needs to be done, and less experienced presenters have less think about. However, in addition to the extra work and expense, they might not be useful for experienced educators who have to work with pre-existing curriculum/lesson plans or prefer creating their own. These people may just want to be able to fit a film into something already established.

Part 5. Conclusion

It is truly in the interest of both documentary filmmakers and educators to make more and better use of documentaries in the classroom and for other educational purposes. There are many ways that filmmakers can make their documentaries more appealing for this audience. While some may involve considerable effort, many others are relatively simple and easy to implement.

For the documentary art form to thrive, the next generation should be encouraged to more fully partake of the many wonderful documentaries being created these days. Take the time to think about these considerations early on in the filmmaking process, and obtain professional advice if you can.

Part 6. One last note

By the time you are ready to commission educational supporting materials, your film, website, publicity materials etc. should have developed a unique and coherent look and feel. A style guide will help those developing these products to align them with your “brand”.8

Part 7. References

A Place in the Middle | Hawaii Educators. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2015, from

All About Adolescent Literacy. (2016). Retrieved January 17, 2016, from

Carroll, Cozette, Kooyoomjian, Jill et al. Strong at the Broken Places: Turning Trauma Into Recovery A Study and Resource Guide. Retrieved December 20, 2015.

Dancoff, Judith. (2013). Educational Distribution DIY. Retrieved December 20, 2015.

Jones, Jessica. (personal communication, December 21 2015).

Milkova, Stiliana. Strategies for Effective Lesson Planning. Retrieved December 20, 2015.

Rekkas, Katherine, (personal communication, January 15, 2016).

Schier, Steven. (2011, August 8). Telephone interview.

Seavey, Nina. (personal communication, April 20, 2011).


1 An example would be Judith Dancoff’s experience with her film Judy Chicago and the California Girls

2 An example is the work of Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson with their film A Place in the Middle

3 See examples at the Southern Poverty Law Center - Teaching Tolerance educational models

4 Go to for a free blank template of an Anticipation Guide

5 An example would be the “Survival Plans” of some of the characters in Strong at the Broken Places: Turning Trauma Into Recovery, available for free download at

6 An example is contained in the Teaching Guide for Mr. Stokes’ Mission, available for free download at

7 Go to for an example of an Educator’s Guide featuring director’s statement, discussion questions, standards alignment, resources, background information and epilogue or to request free download of a more involved Educator's Guide that also includes student activities

8 Go to for a good example of a coherent, well thought-out graphic design across all components of the film, website and supporting educational material