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Andrew Jackson

Pacific Blue Solutions


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Using Storyline: re-imagining tasks and activities with freeform interactions


Use Storyline’s freeform interactions to create virtually any kind of activity you like, with any objects you like and ‘attach’ the interaction functionality you want to that activity

In the first article in this series, I mentioned how lots of authoring tools (both good ones and bad) can limit your instructional design thinking and creativity.

The bad ones because they are very form or template-driven, leaving you very few options for creativity. The good ones because functionality offering more flexibility or creativity can be either buried away, take a little more time to master or be poorly promoted by the authoring tool’s developer.

Beyond the pre-formatted template

Storyline’s freeform interactions are a good case in point. We all know about the standard e-learning interactions such as pick one, pick many and drag and drop.

Many people creating e-learning in Storyline are fully aware of the pre-formatted, rigidly defined versions of these interactions.

Sadly, they often have no idea that totally flexible versions of these interactions are also available – and only a mouse click away.

These flexible freeform interactions completely transform your ability to create really authentic, context sensitive activities that are a world away from their pre-formatted siblings.

And knowing about these freeform interactions is crucial if you want to produce more authentic, task-based e-learning.

You have complete freedom in how your interaction looks and what skills or knowledge it gets your learners to practice.

Why? Because, by definition, the pre-formatted variety can only ever be about an abstract style of practice activity.

By contrast, freeform interactions are only about the functionality. It’s entirely up to you how you apply that functionality.

In other words, you have complete freedom in how your interaction looks and what skills or knowledge it gets your learners to practice.

Suddenly (provided you are prepared to think a bit differently about your e-learning) you can use the interactions’ functionality to make your practice activity seem authentic and meaningful to your learners.

And by the way, if you need some help in thinking differently about your e-learning, check out a free 12 page boredom-busting e-learning guide here.

Freeform interaction example

So let’s take a really simple example to illustrate this – which you can also watch in the video below.

As the culmination of some previous activities, you want your learners to write an email to a colleague explaining what they have discovered.

Of course, given the limitations of e-learning functionality, it would be extremely difficult and time-consuming to set up an activity where learners could freely write an email and get meaningful feedback on what they’d written.

But it is possible to provide some example sentences they can choose from and then sequence.

This in itself would be hard to achieve with a single pre-formatted interaction in Storyline, but it is perfectly feasible with a freeform interaction.

Better yet, you can design the whole interaction to look much more like an actual email. This shifts the activity from being just an abstract, slightly academic task, to a more natural, authentic one which reflects what learners often do as part of their day-to-day work.

Freeform interaction benefits

So what about other benefits of using freeform interactions? Crucially, they allow you start with the instructional idea.

What is it you ideally want to create to help your learners get authentic practice in the skills you are teaching?

You can sketch the idea out, share it with others, get their feedback and then refine it a bit. Only then do you need to think about which of the interaction type will best help you to achieve your goal.

This is in complete contrast to the pre-formatted variety of interaction, where you are simply having to fit your content into a pre-existing approach, format and layout. Little or no creativity, authenticity or context. Highly abstract for the learners. Very dry. Extremely predictable.

Take a look at the video below to see how to develop a freeform interaction in Storyline:

Using freeform interactions: in summary

Just to recap, you start with your idea. Sketch it out and (where possible) share this with your colleagues and some candidate learners to get feedback and refine the idea.

Create the idea either as a standard Storyline slide or in an external tool such as PowerPoint and then import the content into Storyline.

With your slide all ready to go, choose the Freeform Interactions button in the XX menu. From the list that of interactions available, choose the one suitable for your needs.

Set the interaction’s functionality as required for your activity. Remember you van toggle between the slide view and the interaction’s back end form view as much as you need.

Once all the settings are complete, test your interaction.

So in summary, freeform interactions give you all the kind of e-learning interactions you know and love already – they simply provide you with a powerful, new way to apply them to your learning.

Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue Solutions a company specialising in delivering instructional design training, Storyline training and developing boredom-busting e-learning solutions for clients. Andrew is also the author of a forthcoming book on Storyline. If you’d like to discover 10 things you probably didn’t know about using Storyline, you can get a free copy of his short guide: Storyline Top Tips and Techniques.

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Andrew Jackson


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