Adding Tension to eLearning Stories to Engage Learners

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Using eLearning stories with varied elements of tension is an effective way of helping learners focus their attention on learning what they need to learn. Events that stimulate certain tension levels are more likely to imprint in the minds of learners, thus helping them learn the subject and retain what they have learned.
Adding tension to eLearning stories focuses the learners’ attention on response and reaction. With the overloaded learners struggling with competing content, stories with varying levels of tension raise their value and hence help the learners retain and learn the subject.
What situations often call immediate reaction?
Pick one from the list: hope to gain money; paying taxes; fear of death; failure; loss of a loved one; conflict with another person; frustration; absolute boredom; and many others.
In work situations, what might be in the list? Disagreeable boss; hard to manage people; risk of losing a job; being challenged to take action; commitment to goals; unfair treatment and many others.
What is common in the above list is tension. These events or issues cause emotional and mental anguish or excitement. Tension can either be bad or good. And in learning design, particularly in the use of stories, tension serves as a lever, fulcrum or a tourniquet that can be tightened to get the desired action or reaction from learners. People tend to respond to a stimulus that raises their tension level, be it positive or negative. And we can take advantage of this basic human instinct.
The tourniquet is an illustration of how we may increase or decrease tension. The tourniquet controls blood flow. As we tighten the tourniquet, we restrict the blood circulation. Lack of blood supply causes discomfort, death to the cells and will eventually incapacitate the arm.


Watching your blood pressure
Adding tension is like monitoring a person’s blood pressure. While learning becomes our prime focus for each of the learner, our goal is to design our programs to allow variations in tension levels. It helps your learning design to focus the learner’s attention. Hence a better chance of teaching and helping the learners learn.
Opportunities to add tension in your eLearning design are abundant. The following are good examples.
Introducing conflicts and using first person voice
Which one works better: before or after?
The before and after example above shows us that by changing the voice from that of someone explaining a scene to a character, Trump, who is speaking directly to the audience, the tension level of the event dramatically changes.

Inspiring tension
Tension can be also an uplifting experience. In this photo Paraore is shown with a satisfied smile while Mt. Everest is in the background. An image that shows some ways of overcoming difficulties or challenges adds some level of positive tension into a story.
Adding a text 
Simply adding a text to an image helps define emotional expression and adds tension.
Exaggerated metaphors
In the drawing below, exaggeration of a frustrated character shows the extent of emotion, creating more tension. Illustrated graphics may also be used to add tension in a message. Exaggeration is accomplished by creating extreme illustrations of a condition. For example, the person strapped for time is hanging on a clock, or a person is banging on the table and loudly complaining “Why.”
Tension by varying expressions
The different facial expressions of an irritated person suggest their varying moods and how they effectively communicate tension in our story.
Learners respond better to eLearning that has elements of tension. It is human nature and instinct to respond or react to stimulus that raises tension, anxiety and pleasure.
Adding tension helps the learner to focus on the subject and will likely learn the content materials.
Related blogs:
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”