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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Design: En Media Res

Susan over at E-Learning Queen has a great post on the concept of “en media res” which, she explains, literally means “in-the-middle.”
…this technique is employed in almost all programs designed for television, as well as a significant percentage of feature-length films. It's a familiar technique: the viewer is catapulted immediately right into the middle of the action, usually a dramatic pivotal moment upon which the rest of the plot is constructed

The idea, used in television and movies is to drop the viewer (or in our case, the learner) into the middle of the situation and allow him or her to then determine what is going on before the plot or lesson is being explained. The learner is placed into the context of the learning situation immediately. If we tie this to an on-the-job situation, we immediately place the learner on the job so he or she can be in the exact context in which we want them to apply the learning.

This is a great technique and one that should replace, in a large part, the habit of beginning every online learning module with a list of objectives. In instructional design terms, it is a lot like Gagne’s idea of gaining attention. But this just doesn’t gain the attention; it puts the learner in the context of the learning event.

This also appeals to the constructivist idea of having the learner create meaning. In the beginning of an en media res event, the learner must create his or her own meaning of the event, use his or her background to understand what is going on and then orient to the situation. Think of all the cognitive processing that a learner would be required to do if they were, indeed, dropped into the middle of a critical event like preparing a workbench for a new work process or removing a die from a machine or were dropped into the middle of a doctor’s office.

Coincidently, I was recently reviewing some instruction created by a client of mine and noticed that the couple of online courses that started with a semi en media res were much more engaging to me than ones that started with a more traditional approach. As a person designing engaging lessons or even engaging simulations for your learners, I suggest you try this technique and check out Susan’s post Learning with Audio: Lessons from Television-Monk, House, MD and NCIS (Be forewarned, however, she left out my favorite CSI.)


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1 comment:

Cat Von said...

Hi Karl,

I need your help. I have started another blogspot. I have posted some of my book. I would love your feedback and mentorship. The address is

I have never ventured into the world of writing or into concepts such as this. I would value your feedback on a. The concept, b. The content i.e. would you read further if you picked up the book and 3. Have you any research material on this subject. I will have to end up doing some research as it is very rare. Thanks as always Paul.