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Transmedia – Immersive Storytelling for Learning

December 1, 2010

Imagine a learning experience that is truly participatory; that doesn’t focus on a linear narrative but, instead, is a rich weave of stories from a number of different media and platforms; that immerses its audience fully in the story, making them part of the learning experience. This is Transmedia Learning, or it could be….

If you google ‘transmedia’ yoLight Bulb Tulipsu would be forgiven for thinking that this is purely an academic construct. Indeed, it was ‘born’ in academic circles. The first person credited with coining the term ‘transmedia’ is Prof. Henry Jenkins, (formerly of MIT, now of University of Southern California) in his 2006 book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Henry describes transmedia as ‘the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms’ and transmedia storytelling as ‘immers(ing) the audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story’. Now, Henry was coming at this from his background in media studies and cinematic arts and, indeed, the majority of examples of transmedia can be found in these fields; Heroes, Dr Who, Star Wars and the Blair Witch Project all employed transmedia techniques, but who is to say that the basic principles can’t be used in learning?

As we know, storytelling is a powerful learning tool. Using transmedia, we could create a narrative around the learning objectives or organisational problem and then use different channels and platforms to tell different parts of the story. These channels might include video, blogs, websites, games and more. The story is woven into them in a way that is complementary, with each media platform contributing to the story as it does best.

An example might be an induction programme, which aimed to introduce the organisation’s culture. You could have videos of other employees talking about their experiences, a game based around key values, wikis that new employees could contribute to and so on… People learn best by investigating, discovering and taking part – so much more powerful, immersive and memorable than just being ‘told’.

It sounds so fantastic doesn’t it, so why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, many corporates are simply risk averse, which is understandable in these difficult economic times. They just want more of the same training that they’ve had before (it doesn’t matter that it’s ineffective and costly and no one learns from it). It’ll take some brave and pioneering organisations to embrace transmedia learning properly, but they’ll be the ones who get the rewards. For now, transmedia is still limited to highly connected audiences (digital natives of all ages) and those with a particular interest e.g. sci-fi, history, art and so forth. My betting is, however, that its time, in terms of learning, will come – soon!

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