We get it. We’re doing something new, innovative, different and completely out of the box.
It’s natural to be skeptical about our philosophies and approach to online learning.
But nobody can deny this:
All true things, right?
So as eCourse Adventurers, we’ve gotta give the people what they want!
Below is a quick video clip from our Masterclass. It summarizes our approach on theme’ifying your course, as a way to immerse your students in their learning experience.
The concept of themes has been met with a lot of excitement, as well as some resistance.
Below the video is Q & A with one of our students, Lorraine Watson who was a mega theme and gamification skeptic, who has transformed into an advocate.
Watch the video, then read Lorraine’s story…
I’ll fess up to being skeptical about a theme from the get go.
I discovered the GEA through the recommendation of someone I’ve followed for years and have taken several courses with them.
Upon first arriving at the GEA website and greeted with a cutesy mountain theme, my heart sunk a little bit. These guys aren’t serious. They’re gamers.
Look, they even have cutesy badges you can earn. And they talk about campfires and trails and blah blah blah. Ugghhh.
I’m looking for something professional to help me FINALLY get this course inside my head out into the real world. I’m not interested in creating a game.
“Over the next week, I returned to the Great eCourse Adventure website a few more times, skeptical, but desperate.”
Maybe the GEA appeared at the right time for a reason and the price was right enough to take the risk. I’d give the GEA three months and if I didn’t see results, then time to add another failed program to the “been there, done that” shelf. (Fourteen months later I’m still hanging around here.)
I have to give Brad and Andy props for the amount of effort they put into the website. The material was very professional looking. No slap together Word documents like I’ve experienced elsewhere.
Everything down to the smallest details meshed into all things trekking up a mountain. Their characters and videos were good for a smile or two. They were having fun and that translated into the course.
In order to get what I wanted out of the GEA, I made the decision to go “theme blind” and ignore the badges, leaderboards, themes, language, etc. Whether I have to admit I’m too old or too left-brained, I was here for the information, not games. There is no way my peeps were going to go for this stuff.
The shift from skeptic to advocate was a gradual process. No lightbulb, flip on a switch moments where the world turned on its head. Reflecting on the past year, I’d point to three key transition points:
Seeing the difference in action
As Bradley and Andy approached completing the course material for the GEA, their focus naturally turned towards spreading the word about what they had to offer.
Attending several of their online introduction webinars happened to coincide with attending presentations by others peddling their wares. The difference was night and day.
Not only in the way the material was presented, but more importantly in the experience attendees were having. The GEA webinars drew people into two-way engagement while the other webinars were delivering information in a single direction.
Observing the shift a themed presentation can make with an audience piqued my curiosity. Something was afoot. I needed to understand this whole gamification thing better. I wasn`t clicking with the whole gamer vibe, but others obviously were.
The more I read about gamification, the more I felt the word led people astray. A far more appropriate word would be “engagification”, “connectification.”
How do you create the material and experience in a way that people can see themselves in it and connect with it?
Remember back in the good old school days, where often the lament was “when will I ever need to know geometry or math?”
When you can see yourself in the work at hand, you become more invested in it. I came to realize that gamification was far more than badges, friendly competition and cutesy themes.
A lot of what makes a course engaging is what I was doing naturally. AND you don’t have to do EVERYTHING to still create an enriching learning environment.
The week before Christmas I found myself ranting about all the “how to plan” webinars, emails and products being touted to ring in the new year. More surprising was hearing myself ask what I was going to do about it.
Offer your own course or not. Nothing was working to my advantage – no time, starting from square 0, the holidays, small list. Yet I decided to go for it. With little time to waffle over decisions and no theme jumping to mind, I could feel myself leaning towards nice looking pdfs. I took this as a sign to really push myself to come up with a theme.
The initial two options were a dark, winter’s night or unicorns. Both were ditched quickly. Dark was too gloomy, and I could never pull off unicorns and rainbows in their entirety.
I wanted something to pull participants out of everyday life because they’d be overwhelmed with family and holiday busyness. Outer space on some planet wasn’t going to fly. That would be too far out there for people to believe.
My thoughts turned to where I would like to do introspective work and “by the fire” immediately popped to mind. And from that tiny spark, everything started falling into place. At least enough to feel confident enough to proceed.
I scoured public domain photo collections for some images that captured the look and feel I wanted to convey. There would be no time for creating graphics or theming a website. As the two week course progressed, the theme continued to develop and become richer. Choosing a Facebook private group turned out to be an excellent choice as the photos and livestreams set the atmosphere along with the languaging.
Most importantly, the participants loved the theme and jumped in.
They became a key part of expanding and deepening the theme, and in ways I had not thought of. The world we created became a safe place for people to hang out. We did a “virtual weekend getaway” about six weeks later and we all slipped right back into the environment the theme had created for us.
Obserflecting on the role of themes in the world of course offerings has been very insightful. I’d summarize them into the following key learnings:
Metaphors and analogies are mini-themes by engaging the creative mind. We draw connections between the material we’re trying to learn or explain and something else we’re familiar with and have a picture in our mind around it.
No matter how polished pdfs, slides, videos and even websites look, that that doesn’t mean they are engaging. These mediums are typically communicating information in one direction. The right brain might appreciate how nice they look, but the left-brain is in full control.
Leave room for participants to see themselves in the world you create rather than creating every last detail for them. Involve them, don’t feed them, so it becomes their world too. Good books do this well. The ones we can’t let go of are the ones we know where we were when we read them, how we felt, what else was going on in our life at the time, etc.
Themes don’t need to be slick or complicated, just believable – for you as the course creator, your participants and the content. Theme suspends belief for a moment, so participants can step aside from the beliefs and limitations in thinking of where they are right now into a new space where transformation can occur.
If you lack confidence in being able to pull off your theme, that vibe will telegraph to your audience. They’ll feel something is off or not quite right. BUT, you don’t have to be 100% self-assured you can do it either. Because sometimes a totally off the wall idea for a theme may be perfect. As long as your students feel a sense of confidence and commitment from you, they’ll believe you.
Wrapping your content in a different context sparks your own creativity to flow. New metaphors and analogies are inspired, along with finding new ways of communicating your ideas or seeing connections you never did before. Not always an easy task, but taking on the challenge opens the door to that realm beyond what we’ve always imagined.
Getting creative can be a stretch for the left-brained. It’s not typically how we see ourselves or feel it’s something we can pull off. Even deeper, letting our creative side loose can feel vulnerable. We’re allowing others to see another part of ourselves that may not be congruent with their image of us. This can be particularly true with family members or co-workers. We’re taking a risk to feel embarrassed in front of others, be someone different from who they think we are or stand out from the norm.
We hope Lorraine’s story opens you up to the world of possibilities that exist when you apply a theme to your course, and that it doesn’t have to be hard or difficult.
You can create worlds JUST through language and imagery. Books have been doing it for thousands of years.
You don’t need a ton of tech or a high production budget.
Your imagination and creativity is enough!