eLearning for "Serious" Subject Matter

Happy New Year, all!

Next week I'm to begin working on a series of eLearning modules that focus on the rather serious subject matter of domestic violence. The client does not want a standard "information dump"; rather, they would like something more along the lines of a level-three course, being somewhat interactive.

Do you have thoughts on how to handle subject matter that really isn't "fun" in any way, yet is still interactive? I realize I can create some scenario-based quizzes and such, but I was wondering if anyone had any other suggestions?

Thanks so much!

9 Replies
Christy Tucker

Then I would go with photos and scenarios to get as much of the emotional impact of that kind of course as you can. You can't create as immersive an experience with stills as video, but with good writing, you can certainly create something quite powerful. I would probably aim for one long scenario or a few medium ones (like in Lifesaver) than a bunch of disconnected mini-scenarios for this topic.

Bob S

Christy has this spot on.  Quality over quantity here is the watchword. You want to build that emotional connection in just 1-2 meaningful stories.... then leverage that understanding/empathy to talk about the other related variations.

One of your biggest challenges is going to be appropriate still images.  You may have to go with a commercial site so you can get the same actor in different expressions/poses. Less may be more here... for example an evocative shot in partial silhouette with a single tear may be better than going for "realistic" shot of bruises for example.  

Important project and please keep the community informed of your progress and challenges so we can support you.

Dave Ferguson


Brandon: I work in the pension industry. While we don't deal with as emotionally-laden a topic as domestic violence, we do have some topics requiring sensitivity. For example, in certain situations a person facing significantly shortened life expectancy (for example, due to disease) can receive a payment of all or a portion of the current value of his pension account.

I think scenarios are a great way to present material and have participants interact with it.

  • Yolanda is the 56-year-old principal at Someplace Elementary School. Three months ago she took a leave of absence because of her health. This week her doctor told her her prognosis is very poor, and she may have less than two years to live.
  • What options can the School Pension Plan offer Yolanda?...

As Bob S. suggests, to me less is more -- for my situation I am leaning toward images of objects rather than people, like a principal's-office door or a city-hall building for a municipal worker.

If some of your training involves helping people uncover details and determine alternatives, you might get some inspiration from Cathy Moore's Connect with Haji Kamal:

What I think is most striking here isn't the specific content or the visual style, but the way the scenario requires the learner to work out answers and then see them applied.

Michael Shannon
Brandon Dameshek

I typically prefer using images of people.

I would concur. One of the important considerations in developing training, especially training that involves emotional issues where you use scenarios, is that learners identify and relate to the characters. We relate to people. We don't necessarily relate to objects. While objects can, at times, help us teach a concept, they fall short when it comes to person to person interactions and creating effective stories that learners can put themselves into. 

If you're telling stories, and those stories involve people, then you should have people in them. 


Dave Ferguson

Another ingredient you can stir into many approaches, especially a scenario-based one, is what I call a what-do-you-think question. The idea is to get the audience thinking about an upcoming topic that you're about to explain, even though you haven't provided much information about it. It's a way to get around delivering one more screen of five introductory points.

You can do it through a low-pressure version of a multiple choice question, for example, tailoring the feedback as you would in an instructor-led approach:

What restrictions do you think there could be on a disbursement as a result of shortened life expectancy?

  • A requirement to roll the disbursement into a tax-sheltered account
  • The disbursement must be a lump-sum payment
  • The disbursement must be used for medical expenses
  • I don't think any of these would apply
  • I'm not sure

The choice-specific feedback has two parts: the first acknowledges the choice, and the second sets up the explanation.  E.g., for the "medical only" choice:

Even though the person's medical condition is the reason for the disbursement, as you'll see there is no requirement that the money be used only for medical purposes.

In the same way, while the disbursement can be rolled into a tax-sheltered account, it doesn't have to be. And as the next part of the course explains, the individual can choose either a lump sum or a series of payments.