Continued from Linear vs Modular, Part 1

In branching YouTube videos like those created for this project, it is very easy to fall into a completely linear design mode. We want one video to flow into the next, and this will often lead us to design into our later videos the assumption that someone actually watched the earlier videos. If we make our videos modular, however, we can discover several benefits:

1) Ease of continuity: If our videos are linear, then a change or update in one video may create a continuity error in a later video. We see this in films all of the time. The more modular your design, the less likely you will face this problem from video to video.

2) Ease of entry for new material: By minimizing dependency from one video to the next, we make it much easier to add new material to a video lesson without the new material feeling “tacked on.” In my interactive troubleshooting video, for example, I list “proficiency with a multimeter” as a pre-requisite. If, in the future, I decide to produce a multimeter instructional video, I can include a link to the instructional video during the prerequisite slide. Since the tone of the whole interactive lesson is modular, the new video won’t seem out of place.

3) Transferability of old videos: In linear design, each video presupposes information from the previous video. This makes it very difficult to use (what would otherwise be) a good video in more than one lesson. On the other hand, if every video in a branching video lesson is modular enough to stand alone, then it will be much easier to integrate that video into future lessons. It might be perfectly reasonable to have a single video included in 4-6 lessons, where it applied.

After posting a discussion thread about Linear vs Modular design on the discussion forums in class, I learned from my professor that pieces of content that I call “modular” actually have a name: Learning Objects.  Putting a proper name to it helped a lot; a Wikipedia search of “Learning Objects” brought up a wealth of information on the subject.

My professor also pointed out that the content of a learning object usually needs to be generalized. The more specific the training, the greater the dependence on prior knowledge. Specificity seems to breed linearity.  From the article, when Mark Rosewater was defining linear and modular, he was defining two extremes. Usually in the game of Magic, cards fall within the continuum between the two extremes. Likewise, most of our training falls between the two extremes.

From the moment I started planning that branching video assignment, I saw what Mark Rosewater meant about linear vs modular design.  More important, I understood why he used those specific words (the “modular” part made sense, but the term “linear” didn’t. I would have been more inclined to call them independent and dependent).  Remembering his background as a writer for a sit-com, I can now partially  see it through his eyes.

It seems like a more natural thing to make linear content.  It’s certainly easier, when making content, to make all “downstream” material dependent on “upstream” material.  With proper planning, though, modular design can be much more cost effecting in the long run.  For example, consider a 30 minute training video that works through a steady, linear progression. If we inspect the content carefully, we may find 3 or 4 learning objects (modular concepts) within the lesson. It seems like it would be better to isolate those learning objects from the main video as “branches,” so that they could be used later for other projects.

Of course, they may never be used. But I think if we get into the habit making those small investments now in our lesson designs (and, for that matter, in our game designs), we may find that our jobs – and the jobs of our successors – are a lot easier in the years that follow.

Thank you, Mr. Rosewater, for helping me through this course, and for making me a better teacher.