Donald Clark Plan B: Storytelling sucks

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Donald Clark on typically good form, this time laying in to stoytelling and narrative as a learning method. I particularly like his notions of various activities (including blogging, wikis, social networks and games) as non-narrative learning. He also throws in sports and reality TV shows like Big Brother.

I think he is right up to a point – at least, we tend to construct our own narratives in a far bigger way when faced with such things and engagement is fundamentally social, at least latently. And it is true that most of life does not have the neat plots of authored stories.

However, as a (late) baby boomer, I have a bit of a fondness for narrative and I don’t think it is entirely misplaced. What I find interesting is how popular narratives are changing and becoming more like the non-narrative forms that Donald is keen on. I am a fan of Steven Johnson’s ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ which makes a compelling point that TV shows (in particular) are becoming far more complex and requiring far deeper imaginative involvement than earlier examples of the genre. Yes, they still have neat plot lines, albeit massively intertwingled, but the best of them challenge us in utterly different ways. Compare the latest Battlestar Galactica with its wan forebear for instance. This is a show that is packed with moral ambiguities and deep shades of grey that challenge us to engage at a deep ethical, emotional and intellectual level, to explore and raise doubts on what it means to be human and to delve the depths of the psyche. Yes, it is enriched by the numerous sites and blogs that surround it, but as a learning object it stands alone pretty well. And it does this very intentionally through the narrative form, not by taking me on a journey but by forcing me to engage in a dialogue. The same is true of a decent novel, play, poem or piece of music. Traditional narratives, at their best, are not about leading but about conversing. And, like any good learning experience, they provide this conversation in a safe environment, taking away some of the chaos in order to communicate more effectively about the things that matter (at least to the authors etc). Traditional narrative is as much about what is not chosen as what is chosen. It invites us to look at an artificial world and to see how it relates to our lives and the people and things we know. A story is metadata, often massively complex and ambiguous, but at its heart just a model that enriches or makes it easier to understand our own reality. So yes, let’s embrace the social, but let’s not forget the value and opportunities that the guided dialogue of a good narrative provides.
Created:Thu, 19 Jun 2008 21:56:37 GMT

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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