Part 3: How’s my cadence looking?
Have you ever experienced a learning event which seemed to tick all the boxes – high quality content, knowledgeable presenter, polished production values – but somehow left you feeling a little… underwhelmed, or overwhelmed?
It may have been a case of the wrong cadence for audience and purpose.
In the third and final blog in our series on cadence in learning experience design, we’ll look at how to see if you’ve got the right cadence in your design (so you can tweak it to suit). We’ll also consider what the study of mythology and ritual across time and cultures can tell us about cadence in storytelling, and touch on cadence in the macro and micro of learning.
Cadence as a learning experience design tool
In Part 1 in our series we proposed that although every learning experience design will end up with some sort of cadence, we should be consciously working with it to create a rhythm and flow that best suits the learner and performance outcome. In Part 2 we looked at the five elements of cadence in more detail, and the effect each may have on the felt experience.
Here’s how we define these five elements of cadence:
1. Rhythm – the patterns apparent in the structure and delivery of the experience.
2. Flow – how each element connects with the previous and the next.
3. Pace – how quickly or slowly the learning content is delivered.
4. Intensity – the level of engagement, challenge or impact.
5. Resolution – how the event, interaction, lesson or message reaches closure – or not – depending on the desired effect.
So how do I know if my learning design has got the right cadence?
The right cadence is the one that engages and motivates learners toward inner and outer change.
There is no magic bullet formula, but we can draw on approaches that are used in other creative industries. For example, many successful films and novels follow a similar narrative arc called The Hero’s Journey. Mapped out by Christopher Vogler in his influential screenwriting textbook The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, the idea of The Hero’s Journey as an archetypal narrative structure was based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, who saw a common pattern in stories, ceremonies and myths across time and cultures.
“The ideas Campbell presents in this and other books are an excellent set of analytical tools” writes Vogler about Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. “With them you can almost always determine what’s wrong with a story that’s floundering; and you can find a better solution for almost any story problem by examining the pattern laid out in the book.”
Vogler’s version of The Hero’s Journey maps out twelve stages of a typical adventure. Starting with a problem or call to action, it unfolds with a series of challenges and opportunities for growth, and ends with the hero bringing home the ‘elixir’, in other words, a new understanding or skill for the benefit of their community. In simple terms the pattern involves a problem, a series of events and tests, an ultimate challenge and a resolution. Sound familiar?
While this is an example of a common and familiar narrative structure that we know works, we should keep in mind the right cadence is one that suits the audience and intention of the learning experience.
How to see and communicate cadence in a learning design
Let’s get practical here and call out some devices and tools you can use in your high level design document to quickly see and communicate cadence.
Map out the approach to content and delivery in a format that’s easy to skim read and pick out the key elements, while allowing the reader to focus on some detail if needed e.g. a table layout or consistent use of headings, subheadings and dot points.
Timing is especially relevant for narrative elements like a presentation, animation or for face-to-face training. For workshops, define start and finish times, transitions and breaks so you can see the flow of the event. Animations, videos and presentations can be mapped out by timing each section.
Clearly indicating the timing of sections helps to communicate rhythm, pacing and intensity in the design. You can then see where you might need to add pauses for emphasis or reflection, or speed up delivery to pick up the energy.
Use different coloured table cells in a high level design to signify doing-to-learn (such as activities or discussions) vs. listening or watching-to-learn (such as facilitator presentations or videos) in face-to-face training. This is especially helpful to clients wanting a quick feel for the overall flow of the day.
Call out different multimedia elements for digital experiences. Use colour, or have a separate section in a table for interactions and activities, and another for media such as graphics, audio and video.
These are just a few ideas. Whatever tools you use to map out the cadence in your learning design, make sure they not only make sense to you, but to your team members and your clients!