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

Documentary Film in Adult Education Myriad Uses, Myriad Possibilities

Introduction This paper will first clarify what “documentary” and “adult learner” mean. Then it will speak generally of what the adult learner’s’ educational needs are and what makes documentary film a useful tool for meeting these needs. It will then focus on the specific areas where documentary is used, including the university, the workplace, the community and the home.

What is a “documentary”?

I have observed and participated in many debates about what “documentary film” is or should be. For the purposes of this paper I will use the Oxford English dictionary’s definition of:

Non-fiction. Factual, realistic; applied esp. to a film or literary work, etc., based on real events or circumstances, and intended primarily for instruction or record purposes (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011).

Who are “adult learners” and how do they learn best?

“Adult learners” will be defined as those learners age 18 and above who are learning outside the K-12 educational system. This enormously varied group can include college students away from home for the first time, employees of all ages learning procedures on the job or obtaining required continuing education credits, people wanting to promote a cause they believe in or just become more informed citizens, individuals needing to learn specific skills to apply to their home lives and senior citizens taking a non-credit course for the joy of learning. There is much variability in the adult learning population, so therefore it is challenging to make generalizations (Gailbraith, 2004). However some considerations apply very frequently to most adult learners and therefore should be taken into account.

In general adult learners are busier than younger learners and thus more careful about how they spend their time. They often are not motivated to learn something unless they understand why they need to and “what’s in it for them” beforehand (Gailbraith, 2004). Adults usually learn best when they feel they have more control over the learning process. They usually have many more life experiences to draw upon and connect to what they are learning (Knowles, 2005).

Why use documentary film for adult education?

Learners today have greater access to documentary films then ever before. They can be obtained cheaply or for free, and viewed at a time that best serves the learner’s needs and preferences. YouTube videos, Snagfilms and other websites allow viewers to have discussions about the films or embed them on other blogs or websites to increase the opportunities to discuss the film and learn from it. The following statements were made about the benefits of using fiction films for management training. But I believe they serve as a good summary of the benefits of many other kinds of films and documentaries and learning situations:

• They present topics in ways which are more graphic, engaging, sharply defined, motivating and memorable than conventional classroom methods

• They may cover issues which are difficult to raise through other classroom methods

•They enable students to encounter situations, events and contexts which they may have had no access to in their own lives and experiences

• Allow us to see events through multiple voices and diverse standpoints . . .

• Although they often feature dramatic and large scale events, they can provide a metaphor for the everyday and small scale, and thus resonate with students’ own lives (Leonard, 2011)

Places where documentary is used:


It is not known how regularly documentaries are used in universities. Brian Newman, of “ sub-genre consulting,” states “in the US there is a pretty robust educational marketplace” (for documentaries) (DocMovies, 2011). There is a dramatic range of prices universities must pay for educational documentaries – some distributors still sell documentaries with educational licenses for several hundred dollars. Consumer DVDs may be purchased for as little as $15. Snagfilms streams many documentaries for free as long as one can tolerate commercials. It even has a special section just for documentaries of interest to students entitled “Campus Documentary Films” (Snagfilms, 2011). There is now a wealth of affordable options that can be viewed at an adult learner’s convenience.

The market for educational documentary is currently in transition – while DVDs still predominate, more and more people in general (including college professors) are transitioning to streaming video off the Internet. According to Brian Newman some people in academia are requesting that filmmakers send them the film on a hard drive to upload to a server so that students can log in to watch it that way (DocMovies, 2011). Neither the author (who is also a filmmaker herself) nor any of her colleagues have observed or experienced this yet. However, it is a plausible scenario for the future. This will be of benefit to adult learners because it will allow them access to documentary resources at times and places better suited to their preferred learning styles and schedules.

PBS and ITVS (the Independent Television Service) are the main source of high-quality curriculum guides for documentaries. In addition, some distributors and non-profit organizations (such as Cambridge documentary film, Outreach Extensions and Active Voice) as well as independent filmmakers also provide supporting materials of varying levels of quality. There are two ways documentaries are used at the university level (this applies to K-12 education as well):

Documentary as text

English teachers use documentaries the same way they use other texts – in order to develop the students’ ability to analyze the use of rhetoric, style, propaganda and argument by deconstructing the film’s use of language (College Board, 2011). In this case it is cinematic language instead of written language that is being used. One of the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association is that students can:

. . . read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment (NCTE, 2011)

Documentary as resource (case study):

The second way that universities use documentary is the same way that they would use any other text that would increase knowledge of a particular subject. One example is the film American Feud: A History of Conservatives and Liberals. This film was co-produced by the author of this paper. The 90-minute film feature “uses expert and man-on-the-street interviews, archival film, photographs, electoral maps, quotes, colorful graphics and music, and a little donkey and elephant to tell the history of Liberalism and Conservatism from the 1890's to the present” (American Feud, 2008).

Dr. Steven Schier is the Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Minnesota. He was interviewed about how he uses this film in the classroom. He is able to show the film in its entirety because his class is 105 minutes long. Since most college classes are 50-70 minutes long, the film would either have to be shorter or shown over two classes. He sees his students as “some of the smartest in the country” with very high test scores and academic ambitions. Therefore they don’t experience cognitive overload with a film of such length and challenging subject matter. However, he does feel a 20- or 40-minute version may be more appropriate at the community college level or other places.

His preference is to show longer, more substantial documentaries that develop an argument and lay it out well. However, the majority of his colleagues are mostly using 5- to 15-minute clips of films. He does believe the attention span of college students is shrinking because of the proliferation of media in their lives. Professor Schier first screened the film for an upper-class seminar in American political problems and controversies and is currently using it at the beginning of an introductory course in American government. He screens the film, then gives his students 30 questions to answer to help them write a paper detailing their own political views. Professor Schier’s main resource for finding films to use in teaching is, which is where he found this film. He has found that it is “very rare that something important and useful isn’t on Amazon.” When asked about study guides or supporting materials that would be useful, he replied that he would like “about 5 or 6 well-focused discussion questions so that the instructor could pick 2 or 3 to use” (Schier, 2011).

Workplace/Professional Development

Documentary can be used in many different ways in the workplace, depending on the audience and objectives of the training. OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has many videos used by trade unions and employers to teach about worker safety (Smith, 2011). Instructional Designers creating training using Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction find that a whole film or clip from one can serve well for the first step of “gaining attention” (Smith, 2011).

Stanford University’s Biomedical Ethics in Film Program creates documentary films that “can be used as dramatic and interactive teaching tools that will engage students and scientists in thinking about the ethical, philosophical and social issues involved in their research.” They believe that a film’s visual imagery can “portray complex situations from multiple perspectives and can easily engage viewers in meaningful discussions of the issues. Film is one of the only media forms that compels the viewer to experience and empathize with the situation deeply enough to truly weigh ethical dilemmas” (Stanford, 2011).

Often non-fiction is used to demonstrate processes and procedures (Smith, 2011). There is some question in this author’s mind whether video is always the best way to do so. In these days it is relatively simple and inexpensive to make a video of somebody performing a procedure and upload it to YouTube. The work that Clark and Myers did comparing illustrations and text to animations for learning may apply to non-fiction as well. They discovered that:

Presumably, the so-called passive medium of illustrations and text actually allowed for active processing because the learners had to mentally animate the changes from one frame to the next and learners were able to control the order and pace of their own processing. In contrast, the so called active mediums of animation and narration may foster passive learning because the learners did not have to mentally animate and could not control the pace and order of the presentation. In addition, animation may overload the learners’ working memory because the images are so rich in detail and are so transitory that they must be held in memory (Clark, 2008, p. 70).

However, they did also find that:

In spite of these results, there might be some content that is particularly suited to animation or video rather than static frames of illustrations or photos, such as descriptions of how to perform a motor skill (Clark, 2008, p. 70).

More work will have to be done to resolve the question of when videos of processes and procedures are best used (Clark, 2008, p. 72).

In addition there is sometimes a question of credibility for some of the videos found on YouTube. While some videos are clearly produced by experts in their field, others may not in fact be teaching the best practices. Worse yet, they may be demonstrating a procedure that is unsafe or incomplete.

Continuing education credits

Continuing education credits are required for professionals in certain fields in most states to maintain licensure. One example of the use of documentary film for continuing education credit is The American Institute of Architects awarding such credits for viewing and discussing the film Blue Vinyl. This film focuses on the effects of PVC on health and the environment (Barrett and Leddy, 2008). In addition to being used in churches, organizations, universities and agencies, a film called Cargo: Innocence Lost about human trafficking has been certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council and the Board of Behavioral Sciences for continuing education credit (I Stop Traffic, 2011). The Pine Mountain Institute combines documentaries such as The End of Suburbia, Everything's Cool , The Inconvenient Truth and What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire with the completion of a course guide for continuing education credits for mental health professionals (Pine Mountain Institute, 2011).

Screenings at conferences

Documentaries can be used at professional conferences and meetings. An example was when the American Public Health Association’s 2010 national meeting featured a screening and discussion of the documentary Living Downstream, about environmental links to cancer and other aliments (APHA, 2011).


Those who want to promote a cause or inspire a change in society sometimes use documentary film. Documentaries can be made available by television broadcast, traditional theatrical screening, community screening or private house party. Organizations that fund such films usually desire concrete evidence to prove that their money is being spent effectively to promote measurable change. Therefore, there is more research on the impact of these films than other kinds of documentaries. Those involved in such endeavors believe that presenting their case is only part of their goal. They seek to inform, but with the goal of causing or changing behavior in some way. As one documentary viewer said:

I saw "Super Size Me" in college and haven't been able to go back to McDonald's since... so it was certainly a powerful learning/cementing-knowledge-in-my-mind tool (Wilson, 2011).

Dr. Don Kirkpatrick created 4 Levels of Evaluation for educational endeavors. They are:

Level 1: Reaction To what degree participants react favorably to the training

Level 2: Learning To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in a training event

Level 3: Behavior To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job

Level 4: Results To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement (Kirkpatrick, 2011)

“Activist films” can potentially have educational impact at all these levels. However, there are challenges in measuring change and ascribing it solely to the film when it is being used as part of a broader outreach campaign involving social media, facilitated discussion, public relations, etc. In addition, hard data is often difficult to gather about the effect of viewing a film. Therefore one must “look at a variety of data sources, such as survey results, case studies and anecdotal data” (Barrett and Leddy, 2008). The most comprehensive study was done by the Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation in England. It examined the documentary End of the Line about the consequences of unsustainable over-fishing. The study revealed both immediate changes in knowledge and attitudes about the problems and longer-term behavioral changes in the purchase and consumption of more sustainably harvested fish (Channel 4 BritDoc Foundation, 2011).

Most films designed to create social change have a clear bias of some sort. The perception of bias can adversely affect the motivation of some potential learners. As one documentary viewer said:

The first notion I get that a documentary has a hidden political agenda (especially if it doesn't agree with my tenants [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][sic]) I tend to zone out and devalue the rest of the information even if the other information has nothing to do with politics. (Wilson, 2011)

Documentaries are not the only educational resource that may tell only “one side of the story.” Lecturers, books, websites, etc. may also have biases. This doesn’t mean one can’t learn something from them. However, it does mean that it probably won’t cause learners to change their opinion, and may discourage some learners from viewing the film. The “selectivity bias” means that these films tend to only attract viewers who are already interested in the topic and unlikely to change their opinions. There is such a an abundance of entertainment options these days that:

. . . those few citizens with a strong interest in political or social issues can take advantage of an abundance of media choices to tailor their viewing habits to their pre-existing political views. As a result, both “preference” and “ideological” gaps characterize the audience for any film (Barrett and Leddy, 2008).

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth is one example of this (Barrett and Leddy, 2008).

In a community setting, the individuals might not have previous contact with each other. Therefore learning will occur more easily if the audience’s potential anxiety is addressed. In her Guide for Designing Curriculum for Documentaries Jessica Schoenbaechler makes the following recommendations for adult learners:

. . .the group, who may be coming together for the first time, could benefit from preparation before they watch the film. Establishing expectations for behavior, like confidentiality and compassion as Tracy Droz Tragos does in the guide for her film Be Good, Smile Pretty, can alleviate anxiety. Allowing each participant to write down what they hope to gain from the discussion can steer the direction of the meeting. In fact, answering questions and writing down ideas about the topic before watching the film, provides great discussion material after the film. Audiences can discuss their preconceptions, and perhaps misconceptions, and compare them to new knowledge they acquire from watching the film. (Schoenbaechler, 2011)

Self-directed learning

Adults also use YouTube and other videos to learn processes and procedures outside of the workplace. They go to film festivals and other screenings, film “meetups” and salons and buy and download documentaries just for personal enrichment and watch them on various television channels. There are even “non-credit” continuing education classes for senior citizens to watch documentaries, such as a Howard Community College class that watches and discusses “Contemporary Documentary Film” (Howard Community College, 2011).


Documentaries are already used in a myriad of ways for the adult learner. However, educators can and should consider using them more frequently, as they can be effective tools to teach and engage students. Filmmakers should consider the educational uses for their documentary in the early stages of the pre-production processes in order to facilitate this.

This paper only scratches the surface of how documentaries can be used for adult education, and doesn’t even broach its uses for students in K-12. Possible topics to explore further include:

• Any science about whether any particular length or structure of film is optimal for learning. • What kind of discussion and study guides and other supporting materials would be most helpful for educators to have. • The differences between using documentaries for children and adults. • Using YouTube for education. • Much training and education is focused on health care. One could also write a much longer paper about effectively using documentaries in this field. • An exploration of better ways to inform instructors of the availability of suitable film titles and guidance on how to use them. References

APHA (American Public Health Association). APHA Annual Meeting to be held in Denver this month: Nation’s premier public health event. Retrieved August 6, 2011.

Barrett, Diana, and Leddy, Sheila. Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact. The Fledgling Fund. 2008. Retrieved August 1, 2011.

Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation. The End of the Line: A Social Impact Evaluation. August 7, 2011.

Clark, R. (2008). E learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

College Board, The. AP® English Language and Composition: Using Documentary Film film as an Introduction to Rhetoric. Retrieved August 7, 2011.

Doc Movies. The Future of the Documentary - A Discussion with Brian Newman about DIY. Retrieved August 6, 2011. Galbraith, Michael W., & Long, Huey. (2004). Understanding Adult Learners. Adult Learning Methods: A Guide to Effective Instruction. (3rd ed.). Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing.

Howard Community College. 60 Plus. Non Credit Continuing Education Courses. Retrieved August 8, 2011.

I Stop Traffic. Retrieved August 7, 2011. Kirkpatrick Partners. The Kirkpatrick Model. Retrieved August 7, 2011.

Knowles, Malcolm S., Holton III, Elwood F. & Swanson, Richard A. (2005). Exploring the World of Learning Theory. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Class in Adult Education and Resource Development. (6th ed.) Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

Leonard, Pauline. Using Feature Films as ‘Critical Documentary’ in Management Education. Retrieved July 31, 2011.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts. Retrieved August 2, 2011.

American Feud. American Feud: A History of Conservatives and Liberals. Retrieved August 8, 2011.

Oxford English Documentary. Documentary Film. Retrieved August 2, 2011.

Pine Mountain Institute. The Psychological Aspects of Transition Continuing Education Programs. Retrieved August 8, 2011.

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

Schoenbaechler, Jessica. Creating a Curriculum Guide for Your Documentary Film. Retrieved August 3, 2011.

Smith, M. (July 29, 2011). Videos in Training. (personal email). (August 2, 2011).

Snagfilms. Campus Documentary Films A-Z. Retrieved August 6, 2011. Stanford School of Medicine. Documentary Film. Retrieved August 7, 2011.

Wilson, M. (2011, July 14). Documentary. (personal email). (August 2, 2011).[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

The "D-Word" - a role model for online communities of practice

In the training world we often hear "communities of practice" or "learning communities" touted as a more effective method of "just in time" learning and mentoring. Yet very few organizations have figured out how to successfully create one that will last. Outside of a few education focused ones like "edutopia" most seem to languish, with very sparse attendance or contributions. Instructional design has been no exception. Amazingly, 15 years ago, before Facebook and Twitter, some visionary documentary filmmakers had figured out the formula. The "D-Word" is a thriving resource for this rapidly changing industry that should be a role model for anybody who wants to attempt such a community for their own field. I have used it as a sample of what best practices for those considering such an endeavor.

If you want to learn more click here for a short blog based on a paper I wrote in grad school. A key-takeaway is that, like almost any other training or educational endeavor, it will take time and money to make something effective and worthwhile. It is not just "build it and they will come". There really aren't any substitution for patient and continual attention by a "benevolent dictator " (in the words of founder Doug Block).

The D-word is currently seeking funds for a major upgrade. I have no doubt that their members, even though they are for the most part struggling artists, will be happy to reciprocate for all that they have received from the D-Word. Learn all about it here:

Good summary about the limitations of online learning

Facebook somehow actually figured out something I'd be interested in recently - KQED's Mindshift Blog.  Recently they wrote a great post about the problem with MOOCs. I've repeatedly said that by $1500 3 credit course in "Adult Learning Theory" at UMBC could have been boiled down to one word:


It makes me wonder if the ideal scenario for most learning is a flipped model (recorded lectures watched at the students convenience) with the in-person sessions being used for conversation, analysis, synthesis, skills practice and keeping the learner motivated.

Internet forums ­ an imperfect example of informal learning

Internet Forums are simply online sites where people can have conversations on a variety of topics by posting and responding to messages.  “On-line bulletin board”, “message board” and “bulletin board” are often used interchangeably.  If well moderated, an internet forum can become a place where people from all over the world come together to share knowledge about their discipline or subject of interest – a true “community of practice”.  Friendships, professional connections and reputations are developed as well.  They can exemplify the best of informal learning. However, not all Internet forums are equally successful.  In this paper I will briefly touch upon the history of Internet forums and look into the different varieties that exist today.  I will discuss some of their limitations and focus on one called “D-Word” that I am familiar with and consider a very successful example.

Perhaps we could trace the true origins of “bulletin boards” to graffiti from the antiquities.  Centuries ago, paper was precious.  Newspapers were posted in public spaces so that members of the community could come together to read and discuss them.  Some newspapers inserted blank spaces so that readers could add their own comments for the person they would be passing the newspaper onto.  As paper eventually became more affordable for the masses, “bills” and “broadsides” could be posted where people were likely to see them. Bulletin boards made a central place to post and read information.

In the late ‘70’s and  ‘80’s computers gradually began to enter the home.  The first dial up Bulletin Board system (BBS) was started in 1978 when a Chicago blizzard stranded computer hobbyists Ward Christensen and Randy Suess inside.  People would dial into this and other bulletin boards on 1200 bit modems.  Many were run as a hobby, while others charged a subscription. Some were run by businesses to provide customer support.   Given the limits of the technology, they were basically limited to sharing software and text based information.

BBSs reached their peak usage in 1996, but declined rapidly in popularity with the World Wide Web.  Internet forums today are more robust, offering a place for people with any sort of interest a place to share information, ideas, images, movies etc.  Better search features allow people to take advantage of the wisdom of previous discussions.   People can learn and teach others in these communities at a time that works best for them.  The information they need is available when they can best make use of it. Some are geared towards hobbies, others towards various professional fields such as education and instructional design.   Subject matter ranges from art to zoology, and just about everything in between.

However, some forums fail to gain a critical mass of participants, and others are plagued by strife and discord.  “Trolls” are people who use the cover of anonymity to speak in an ill-mannered way or “flame” others.   Often posts or questions get no response.  The conversation dies and people become disengaged for various reasons.    In addition, informal learning is more difficult to evaluate and quantify.   Therefore it is harder to introduce into certain workplaces that are focused on immediately verifiable results.

One example of a very successful on-line community is called “D-Word”.  It was formed over 10 years ago by a documentary filmmaker named Doug Block, who started with a series of online journal entries “depicting the joy and angst of making and selling his feature documentary, Home Page. It was meant to inform, inspire, humor and depress the hell out of working or aspiring documentary filmmakers, or anyone else interested in the filmmaking process, for that matter.”  It evolved into a community of over 3,000 professional Members and 5000 “enthusiasts” from some 80 countries.    The hosts screen potential members to make sure they have some professional experience.   95% of applicants are accepted.

I am an activate participant in this community.  I have learned many invaluable things and been the beneficiary of incredibly useful advice about all aspects of the production and distribution of documentary films.  I have made friends from all over the world, several of whom I have met when they come to DC.  I have established a reputation of someone with expertise on web design and educational distribution.

An interview I did with Doug Block revealed that as the primary host and creator he sees himself as a “benevolent dictator with no entrepreneurial spirit”.    In the first years he spent about 2 hours a day on it, now it’s down to about one hour a day.  In addition there are 3 other co-hosts who also contribute.  He sees his primary role as keeping folks on topic and making them feel welcome.  In the early years he had to regularly be a more heavy handed “topic cop” to keep people focused on the sticking to the topic.  Now he’s more of a “light overseer”.  The “parking lot” is a special topic expressly designed to allow people to rant and rave.  Even gently suggesting to people that they take something “to the parking lot” often diffuses tensions.   In 10 years only 3 people have been kicked out.   Approximately 150-200 people participate regularly.  Doug thinks you get the most out of it if you check in every day.

Doug Block’s advice to anyone wanting to start an Internet community is: “People think it’s simple to start a virtual community but it’s not.  Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort.  People don’t want to pay for it.  It will require strong motivated leadership – a benevolent dictator”.

It is my conclusion that in many educational endeavors there are often no shortcuts and technology is just another tool.   It often takes hours of preparation and effort for a teacher or trainer to pull off a good lesson or lecture.  Similarly, it takes dedicated hosts and facilitators willing to donate many hours to make an Internet forum truly flourish.  Improvements in technology will add new features to Internet forums and improve their search features. However, I’m skeptical that the necessary human element can ever be replaced.  Those of us who have volunteered for community groups know that it takes a cadre of dedicated volunteers willing to contribute much time and patience to form community.   The same applies for Internet forums.




¿ Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865 , Richard D. Brown


¿ Doug Block, telephone interview 9/25/2010

Up in Air with ISD and George Clooney – #ISD

 As a person with a many pots on the stove, keeping up with the latest movies usually falls pretty low on the priority list. So I only recently saw “Up in the Air”, a wonderful take on life in a globalized world.  George Clooney portrays a man whose job has him flying all over the country on a continual basis.   He is kept busy by cowardly bosses who don’t have the guts to tell their employees themselves that their services are no longer required.    In these times, he might seem to be one of the few with job security.  However, a fresh faced young woman has recently been hired by the company.  She introduces the idea of reducing the  cost of doing business by firing people via web conference instead of in person.  Management is quite smitten with the idea and authorizes her to implement it right away.   In one scene she is shown making a flow chart type of diagram.   When Clooney’s character asks her what she’s doing she replies that she is making a flow chart of possible outcomes so that anybody can be easily trained to do his job.

What she could have said is that she was doing the design phase of ISD.  Of course, very few members of the general public would have understood that response since very few people seem to know what ISD is.  But that was indeed what she was doing.  George Clooney’s character was horrified by it, feeling that his work was too complicated and skilled for this approach and required a personal touch.   I won’t spoil the ending, but urge you to see “Up in the Air” for yourself.    This film was a refreshingly nuanced and compelling take on many aspects of modern life – including the costs and benefits of increased efficiency rendered by “best practices” ISD.

Objectionable Objectives

Camy Bean and her followers said it best a few years ago here:

Learning objectives in the beginning of a project can be a signal to “listen up kiddies, and prepare to be bored”.  As a learner I also usually skip over objectives.  I’m afraid that to alot of people they are preceived as a signal to prepare for some really dull “educational” but good for you cod liver oil.  As you may know, I’m a career changer with only a few actual design projects under my belt so far.  It is my preference to try to engage and motivate the learner first.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s crucial to have well thought out objectives in order to design effective training.  I just don’t believe it’s alway necessary to introduce them to the learner in the beginning of a module.

But the issue comes seems to come up again and again with every project I do.  My current project is a live webinar/presentation about an emerging technology and how it applies to e-learning. The goal is to get us used to presenting and inform other students.   So I jumped right in, and was having a grand old time making something which I think will have a nice flow and be interesting and informative. Then it occurs to me that I’m not using proper ISD techniques because I’m not writing, much less including the old “Objectives:  Here’s what we are going to learn today bullet one, two, three etc.”.    Will I be marked off for this by the teacher?  When I asked him he said (to paraphrase)  . . .

“at least let us know what we are going to be learning”  if you are going into several points in the presentation then it would be good to have bullet points”.

Perhaps this is a good compromise, and won’t make the presentation start off too stiffly.  But I do wonder from the point of view of a portfolio piece, will not having formal objectives in the beginning be seen as a mark against me?  Will I be judged as someone who doesn’t understand ISD principles?  Or worse yet, as somebody “too creative” to be hirable by a company that does more routine training?

My introduction to the wonderful world of wireframing

I am currently taking EDUC 682: Instructional Technology Design and Development at UMBC.  This class is taught on-line synchronously.  Last week’s lecture focused on wireframing.  Many students were unfamiliar with this term, and confused about the difference between it, “storyboarding” and a “flow chart”.    Professor Mark’s was almost evangelical about clarifying the differences.  I think this is because in his experience in  the “real world” he has observed that being able to do all 3 results in much better planning and project management. In a nutshell, a “wireframe” is a prototype of a single page of a website or learning module.  A storyboard shows all the pages together in sequence. Only the flow chart allows for branching.  Thus if a learner doesn’t follow the lesson sequentially, but is allowed to skip ahead or repeat based on their learning needs the flow chart will show their alternative paths.

At Professor Mark’s company professional software is used.  I asked if there were any free on-line options for those of us who have already spent too much on software.  He pointed us to this site:

I haven’t had a chance to test every program mentioned, but her are my preliminary results.  Since I have a Mac, your results may vary:

Lumzy was the best.

Mockingbird and Hot Gloo – no longer free

Denim – was able to launch application, but not to figure out how to work it.  Marks would slowly appear, then disappear

Cacoo looks to be the easiest to use and best designed, but very slow (constantly got what we mac users call “spinning volleyball of doom”}.  It exported an image as a png