Keys to eLearning Storytelling: Using a Guide Character in Your Online Course Part 2

Keys to Storytelling in eLearning - An eBook by Trivantis

Recently, Trivantis® released a new eBook, Keys to Storytelling in eLearning, a collection of chapters from industry experts, instructional designers, and the Trivantis Team. One of these chapters was written by the Online Learning Manager for The Fresh Market, John Mortenson, who has over 10 years of online course development experience. John is also a cartoonist.

I shared part 1 of this chapter on the blog a few weeks ago. Today, let’s take a look at the next section, where you’ll learn a few guidelines for creating a guide character:

How do I come up with a GUIDE?

If you’re thinking about having a GUIDE in your course, your first questions might be: “How on earth do I come up with the GUIDE? What kind of creature should it be? What should he or she be like?”

There’s no exact science to creating a GUIDE, but I can share the guidelines I follow. (See what I did there? Wordplay!)

A GUIDE needs to have a natural connection to the course content.

There needs to be a plausible reason why this character is your GUIDE.

For example, if it is a course about cooking, perhaps the GUIDE is a chef. If it is a course about the forestry, perhaps the GUIDE is a park ranger. So, ask yourself these questions: “What natural connection does your GUIDE have to your topic? Why would he or she be knowledgeable about it?”

A GUIDE needs to be interesting.

If you want a course to be engaging, an interesting GUIDE is better than a boring one, but “interesting” can be subjective. Here are some specific recommendations on to how to make your GUIDE interesting.

guide characterGive your GUIDE a distinct personality and voice.

An interesting GUIDE has a unique personality and career. For example, your guide might be a hard charging, no-nonsense drill instructor. Or maybe your GUIDE is a Buddha-like chef. Each of these GUIDES will have his or her own way of saying things… the language, dialect, and word choice will be unique to each one’s personality.

Give your GUIDE a backstory.

A backstory is a fictional history you invent for the GUIDE. Understanding a GUIDE’s personality and voice is easier if you know his or her backstory. Where is he originally from? What is his job? What happened to make the GUIDE the way he is? You don’t necessarily have to fill in ALL of the details, but the more you “know” about your GUIDE, the more the details help flesh him out as a living character.

Your GUIDE doesn’t have to be “nice” all of the time.

Most interesting characters are not sweet and kind at all times. Don’t be afraid to let the GUIDE get frustrated with the learner from time to time (in keeping with the personality you have created).

For example, who will get more quickly frustrated—the Drill Sergeant or the Buddha Chef?

I’ll just mention that you want to be careful with negativity—you do not want the student to despise the GUIDE.

Don’t limit your GUIDES to humans.

Although I mentioned the example of a chef and drill instructor, you don’t need to limit yourself to authority figures or humans, even.

For example, let’s say you are making a course about feeding cats. Perhaps your first idea for a GUIDE is a veterinarian. But what if the instructor were a cat himself? Or maybe a bird in a cage? The bird might be a keen observer of cats because he watches them carefully ALL DAY LONG for fear of being eaten. Or perhaps the GUIDE is a dog, who might offer a humorous (if misinformed) perspective. Or the guide could be an erudite FLEA from London. All of these choices are a little more interesting than a simple human GUIDE.

To read the rest of John Mortenson’s chapter, download the full eBook, Keys to Storytelling in eLearning.

In the eBook, you’ll find out how to bring a guide character to life in your online course, along with more valuable tips from instructional designers and eLearning industry experts.