While giving my “elevator pitch” to someone recently, I mentioned that I help entrepreneurs to discover useful tools that help them sell online courses that were engaging, interactive, and loved by their customers. Her response was that not every subject lends itself to interactive online courses. Is that also your view of online education?
I immediately thought back to an American History course I worked on and an interactive activity that was used to help students imagine what they might have been like if they lived during the 60s and 70s. The activity was called a “branching scenario”.
What is a Branching Scenario
A branching scenario is essentially a story that is presented online in such a way that the audience is not only a participant in the story but also experiences the rewards and consequences of their choices without you having to spell it out. For example, instead of just telling a new employee how to sell shoes in your training, you would present them with a scenario of a father coming into the store to buy shoes for his son. The employee is given multiple choices, and either ends up with the father not buying anything (if they made poor choices), or the father buying a pair or two (if the employee made good choices). Branching scenarios cause the learner to think and increase engagement throughout the learning journey.
In almost every subject, it is quite possible to come up with such a scenario. Just take a moment to think of a real-world experience that you have had, and how your decisions led to certain consequences. What did you learn from that experience, and how have your decisions changed since then? Now, you just need to recreate that experience in your online course.
Branching scenarios do a remarkable job of thrusting a learner into customizable, engaging situations that make them explore the vast array of options they might have in the real world. Imagine how much more relevant and engaged your potential audience member, or student will become in such an activity, versus just being told what to do and what not to do. They now get to experience the negative consequences in a low-risk environment, and can even repeat the activity over and over again to learn to make better decisions.
But, how, you may wonder, can I create online stories like this? While there are companies like BranchTrack and high-end software like Captivate and Articulate Studio that create video and graphics-heavy branching scenarios at a cost, it is also possible to use free tools online to create DIY branching scenarios of your own. My favorite is an open-source tool called Twine.
What is Twine
The Twine app is a free web-based application, originally created by Chris Klimas in 2009, that allows the user to create interactive stories that result in a web-ready HTML file. Although Twine is generally used to create online games, it can also be used to create a very simple non-linear story or branching scenario.
Remember that American History course that I was telling you about earlier? Well, I can’t show you the actual activity since it was available only to students enrolled in the university degree program, however, I recreated the activity in Twine using content that I found on this PBS site. That activity included graphics and a lot of other accessories, but you will see the actual branching function has been replicated in my Twine example. If you replay the activity and make different choices, your result will change.
If you were a non-believer in the possibility of adding interactivity to your online course, I hope that you are now a convert!
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Do you know other ways of creating interactive online courses with free tools? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s chat down below.