Innovative approaches to interactive films - for everyone.

In my last post I banged on about the virtues of interactive film and the fact that at Brightwave Towers we're really getting behind its adoption across as many projects as possible, i.e. not just the obvious ones to do with practical subject matter, but also the more esoteric content we often work with and budgets that aren't always presumed to be able to pay for a video component in the finished product!

In other words, without wishing to sound too eager to please, we're looking for ways to dramatically increase the value and quality of our learning designs but at no extra cost to our clients!

So here are some thoughts, kicking off with three different high level approaches to designing interactive films. There will be many more creative approaches but these should whet the appetite:

1. Video branching - a literal scenario or situation that's dramatised and/or filmed as a reconstruction with decision points which, depending on your choice, branch to an associated piece of video. Good for experiencing content for the first time and learning by doing, discovery, etc.

This and 'Stop the action' may be shot from your point of view or as if you're looking on as a third party.

User making a choice on a tablet device.

2. Stop the action - again a dramatised situation where the action runs and you're challenged to make an intervention by stopping the action - false moves can be penalised with a 'three strikes and you're out' gaming element. This technique is especially good for testing comprehension and application. In other words you may already have the knowledge but can you spot when it's not being put into practice?

A users false moves being penalised in a '3 strikes' gaming element.

3. Interactive dialogues - the action is from your point of view and you're in a conversation with a person talking directly to you, or perhaps you're part of a wider conversation. The conversation pauses at various points and you have to decide how best to respond. Then, depending on your choice, the conversation branches accordingly.

Interactive video - learner engagement on a mobile device.

These innovative approaches to interactive conversations are where I'd like to focus as they have the greatest potential for dealing immersively with considerable amounts of content; content that may be quite technical or dry, explanatory or descriptive.

The key is clever scripting, in such a way that it becomes a two way conversation in which you are involved, punctuated by questions at very regular intervals with reactions to your responses. But always moving on with the next piece of content. The key to it is something the knife crime video throws up - pace; more on that in a moment as per our R&D project.

Perhaps I should acknowledge that the Interactive films, while they can work stand-alone, can be integrated and supported by text, information, links and exercises. But the key to their success is to leave such content and activity entirely outside the video narrative itself which needs to flow seamlessly. It needs to gather momentum and maintain a level of immersion and involvement.

Interactive film R&D for innovation

The big mistake of much existing video with questions is the questions are posed as a separate screen that punctuates the action. Interactive films have the questions to be answered within them, expressed as captions overlaid on the video as the action freezes. It's little things like this and how the film is framed, how much dialogue you can have between interactions, etc., that are the difference between success and failure.

These are the sorts of things we wanted to explore in our R&D project as well as making sure our interactive films were responsive/adaptive in the sense that they can run on all the different devices, from PCs to smartphones.

One of our current preoccupations at Brightwave is to make sure that smart phones are not the poor cousin when it comes to running content where e-learning is 'responsive'. In other words we're avoiding designing for the PC then squidging the content onto the other smaller devices.

We used tightly framed 'talking heads' of our main characters to get the full impact and expressiveness of being talked to directly and seeing their reactions, and this is has worked well. We went for a black and white finish to see what sort of impact that would have on the overall effect.

'Talking head' interactive video narrating the scenario and giving the user choices.

And crucially, we shot the video using a single basic set-up, a simple green screen backdrop to give us the opportunity to incorporate or superimpose graphics into the video and autocue to help us cover more material with the timeframe of the shoot. All of this will be significant in filming a lot of material in, say, a one day shoot. There is no point being innovative if you can't deliver at a reasonable cost.

The latter two elements of the shoot are great examples of how costs have come down dramatically since the 'old days' when there would have been no end of expensive brouhaha; the autocue alone would have needed a paid operative. Green screen would have involved a studio shoot with numerous lycra-clad assistants and a fridge full of Holsten Pils. Those were the days...

No, really, it's much more fun now and less exclusive. Meaner and leaner video production methods enable us to take control, to try things out and innovate fresh approaches like interactive dialogues that suit the sort of content and budgets we typically work with.