Writing Conversations for eLearning

In this post, I’ll explain how to write conversations for eLearning. This style of conversation-driven eLearning uses two characters.

In a previous post, How to Start Creating Conversation-Driven eLearning, I described how I use conversations between two characters (a mentor and mentee or learning character) to deliver eLearning content. In this post, I’ll explain how to write and structure these conversations for eLearning. My next post in the series explains options for multimedia with conversation-driven eLearning.

Writing Conversations for eLearning

Learner Challenge

In the introduction of the story, show how the mentee or learning character is facing a challenge. That problem is one that can be addressed through your training.

  • Maybe your character has been dealing with an angry customer, students that are disengaged in class, or a project that is behind schedule.
  • Your character could need new skills: how to respond to customer objections, how to motivate students, or how to get a slipping project back on track.
  • This character could be facing a specific moment of need. Something has changed that means they have a new challenge.

If your audience faces a similar challenge, they can immediately see that this training is relevant because they want to solve this problem too. That’s when your character seeks help from a mentor.

In my conversation-driven coaching and mentoring course, the main character, Michael, is a newly promoted manager. He struggles to coach one of his employees on how to handle a difficult client.  You can see the moment of need, and hopefully learners can identify with the struggle. (Email or RSS readers, if no video appears below, you can watch it on YouTube.)

Don’t Make the Learner Dumb

One temptation with this style is making the learning character an empty vessel with no prior experience or knowledge. The mentor explains something, and the mentee simply nods along, basking in their superior knowledge. If you do that, you might as well write it with a single traditional narrator.

Instead, treat your learning character (and your learners) as adults with prior knowledge and experience. Let your character figure some things out and make intelligent guesses.

Mentor Questions

Just like a good teacher or trainer, the mentor character can ask questions of the learning character to draw out information. The answers can be wrong sometimes, just like in real life, but they should be reasonable guesses that your audience might make. Asking and answering questions also helps with the next point.

Don’t Talk Too Long

Don’t let your mentor lecture for multiple paragraphs at a time. Neither person should have a monologue. Listen to conversations where someone is explaining something. Usually, the person learning interjects regularly with questions or affirmations of understanding.

Add dialogue with back and forth to show your learner is actively listening to the mentor. Have the learner reflect back what they heard from the mentor and connect it to something they already know or share an example.

Skepticism and Objections are Good

Does your audience automatically buy into everything you’re training on the first try? Maybe, but often they are skeptical or resist. Let your learner character be a little skeptical too. The character can voice some of the objections your learners might have, allowing the mentor to address those objections. Over the course of the training, your learner character will become less skeptical. You may be able to get skeptical audience members to feel less resistant as they see the change in the character.

Here’s an example from a conversation between two doctors discussing the treatment of addiction.

Tom: How many of our patients do you think have problems with alcohol or drugs? It can’t be that large of a number.

Deborah: I’ve seen estimates that the lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorders is about 30 percent of the total population.

Tom: Thirty percent?!? That can’t be right.

Deborah: It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I couldn’t believe it either. That includes both abuse and dependence though.

Tom: I never would have guessed it was so high.

[A little later in the conversation, after a few more statistics on the impact of addiction]

Tom: Wow, I didn’t realize what a significant issue this is. I must treat patients all the time who are dealing with addiction without even knowing it.

Deborah: That’s probably true.

Tom: But is this really something we should be dealing with as primary care physicians? Aren’t counselors and specialists really better equipped to handle these issues?

Deborah: We should refer patients to specialists when they need extra help. We need to address it here first though. We’re still the people our patients see the most. It’s even more important that we do so now with the Affordable Care Act.

Tom: Why does that matter?

What Else Do You Need?

I’ve heard from several readers that this technique is one they can apply to their projects. If you’re thinking about trying this strategy, what else do you need to get started? Ask your questions or tell me what else you want to know in the comments or by replying to email.

11 thoughts on “Writing Conversations for eLearning

  1. Hi Christy, I really using a conversation scenario to deliver content, however, have seen some resistance to this approach saying there’s a lot of unnecessary flaff and not getting to the point where target audience is senior or subject matter is technical. I wonder is there any guidance on when ‘not’ to use a conversation scenario?

    1. I know you commented on another post and got at least part of an answer, Kavitha, but I want to point you to some additional information too.

      First, there are a range of options for using storytelling and scenarios. It may be that some sort of scenario or story would be effective, but not the specific approach you’re using.

      Second, I have two posts about when to use and when to avoid branching scenarios. I’m not sure whether you’re using branching or just more of a conversation like in this post, so I’ll share those links here as well.

      Third, it’s possible that a conversation-driven approach would be effective for your training, but that it actually does take too long to get to the point. If you’re spending multiple screens just setting up the story, that’s too much (unless you’re looking at something like a 10-hour training sequence). Even with a conversation, you should get to the point fairly quickly.

      With technical subjects, it really depends on what kind of topic it is. If it’s strictly procedural, where someone will follow a technical process the same way every time, basically following a checklist, then you may not need a story. Software tutorials generally are more effective with just a demo of the task. But, if the technical subject requires analysis and decision-making, then a story can help provide the context.

  2. Great stuff in there, Christy! I like the idea of not making the learner dumb, and acknowledging that the learner has experience and knowledge which can be used in the narrative/conversation. It’s much more real feeling that way, and much more fun for us voice-over talent to record! Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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