Once Upon a Keyboard: Designing Stories Into E-Learning

Written By

Karen Scott

April 14, 2008
Topics

Heard any good stories lately? Sometimes stories are pure entertainment; sometimes they have a deeper lesson. For thousands of years, parents have taught their children everything from life skills to religious beliefs with stories. Today, we get constant exposure to stories, through television, movies, books, magazines, and conversations around the water cooler at work.

As e-Learning designers and developers, we use different media types. We design our learning modules to include graphics, movies, narration or other sound, text, and animation. Interactivity is a key that helps learners engage with the material and take skills back to their jobs. Another key, though, is the use of stories to give context and to involve the learner at an emotional level with the material.

Stories to teach, stories to learn

A trainer standing in front of a classroom has a captive audience and can become a showman for a few moments. A classroom trainer can use the spaces between the technical points of the agenda to connect the dots for the learner – using stories, snippets of true events, examples, and humor to transfer sequential procedures into a body of knowledge the learner can later recall.

E-Learning modules must accomplish this same transfer. The story needs to be the magnet that attracts bare-bones facts to the reality of the student’s daily job life. Then, the story needs to maintain that magnetic attraction to connect the trainer’s message into a cohesive body of knowledge and action so the student can access it when the time is right. Like parents teaching children not to go into the woods alone or how to find ripe berries in the summertime, e-Learning designers and developers can use memorable stories to transfer knowledge and skill.

What is a story?

So, what are stories? According to Merriam Webster Online Dictionary (www.m-w.com), a story is simply “an account of incidents or events.” Stories can be true accounts or fiction, long or short, tragic or humorous.

If you study the art of storytelling or creative writing, you will find that stories have a basic structure, called the story arc. This arc includes an introduction, a conflict or problem, complications, climax, resolution, and conclusion. (See Sidebar 1.) Other elements of stories include plot, characters, setting, theme, and style. These elements help the storyteller build a story that grabs the reader’s attention, keeps the reader involved, and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction that the conflict or problem was resolved. E-Learning designers share these goals with storytellers. We must gain our learners’ attention and keep them involved. We want to help them see the resolution to a conflict or problem, and leave them with the satisfaction of having gained knowledge or skill.

Table 1 Story Structure for Learning

This table describes how to map the elements of a story to elements of e-Learning design.

Story Arc Element E-Learning Instructional Design Element Tie Them Together Example
Introduction and inciting incident Learner analysis Introduce a character and setting that is a stand-in for your learner Jane is driving home from work.
Conflict, problem High-level task analysis Present the problem, question, or issue Jane has a flat tire on the freeway.
Complication, Rising Action Application of knowledge learned before the story, review tests Describe learner tasks, especially research, information gathering, re-creating customer problem, etc. Jane gets out her owner’s manual and locates her spare tire.
Climax Terminal learning objective Help learner diagnose the solution or see the answer Jane changes her tire.
Resolution, conclusion Sub-tasks with performable steps, criterion test Provide step-by-step procedures for the learning objective Help Jane change her tire.

 

Will a story used for e-Learning be as complex as stories written for entertainment? Probably not. The reality of e-Learning, especially in the corporate world, dictates that we use as little of our learners’ time as possible. We must make the lessons effective but fast. Therefore, those of us who design and develop e-Learning should use stories for their power; however, we should understand how to structure those stories to get the biggest punch for the smallest investment.

E-Learning designer’s guide to story structure

E-Learning designers can apply the basic story elements with a variety of online media. The art of e-Learning design and development is challenging. We are trying to teach in a situation where some would say the learner is isolated, communicating not with other human beings, but with machines. Any method we can use to make a “human” connection with our learners will help us achieve our ultimate goal. Stories can help make this connection. Our learners will walk away with new knowledge and skills that they can apply to their jobs, making them more valuable employees and making their company’s investment in training (and in training designers) demonstrate a true return on investment.

The introduction

The traditional story arc begins with an introduction. This element gives us the first incidents in the story (“inciting incident” in the novel-writer’s vernacular). It introduces characters and setting. In a novel or short story, it is used to “set the stage” for the rest of the action in the story. Our e-Learning story introduction serves the same purpose, although it may be only a few sentences instead of a chapter or two. We may have characters to introduce, especially if we are going to present a complex story type. The characters might be a stand-in for the learner themselves; however, we must introduce them with enough detail so the learner can identify with their actions. We certainly have a setting (often the workplace or a customer’s environment), which may not need to be described in detail, but needs to be stated to set the learner’s mind in the space of the story. We definitely will have an inciting incident – a customer’s phone call, a moment of sale, the filing of a complaint, or an event that requires the employee to take action. Think of the inciting incident as the event that will begin a specific workflow for your learner. You will kick off the series of events here, and build on those events in the next phases of the story arc.

Presenting the inciting incident and accompanying details can take the form of many media options in e-Learning. You might include a photograph of an office environment and workers, accompanied by text or narration to set the stage. You might produce a short movie clip showing the action or conflict taking place in the story setting. At its most basic form, the introduction could be text, perhaps accompanied by graphics to help illustrate the initial conflict or incident. If your course is part of a blended learning solution, you might choose to have the introduction built as a Web page where students can come and go before the other training modules begin, learning details about the characters, settings, and the inciting incident.

The conflict

The next phase in the story arc is the conflict or problem. Here is the crux of your training agenda. Your customer, fellow employee, or organization has a question, problem, or issue that needs addressing with specific action. This is the time in the story arc to describe that need. What problem does the customer have with your product? What question is the employee asking their HR manager?

The complication

Next, a traditional story arc has rising action, also known as “complication.” In e-Learning, this may be very limited. After all, we are not writing the next great American novel. Rather, we are trying to set up a specific learning moment for an employee who probably doesn’t have much time in which to learn a task. At most, the rising action for an e-Learning story could include additional details about the problem that the customer is reporting. If, for example, you are teaching customer support representatives how to support a software product, you might need to include details about the customer’s environment here. What kind of operating system are they using? Is the customer new to the product? When did the problem occur?

Designing the conflict and rising action into e-Learning involves a balancing act. Media choices are many and varied, but beware of bogging down your objectives in fancy, flashy vehicles. People don’t learn because they are impressed with movies or graphics. In fact, the more intricate or non-essential detail you include in the rising action, the more you risk losing your main message in the flashy presentation you are using to communicate it. E-Learning should present the conflict clearly, with all of the necessary details and rising action to lead the learner to a conclusion. E-Learning should, however, avoid the tendency to build a block-buster, movie-length media-rich presentation involving more details than are necessary.

The climax

The climax is the turning point of any story. This is the event or skill for which you have a written terminal objective in your training plan. To continue our software support example, this is the point where your learner must realize that they must complete a specific task to solve the customer’s problem. They may have to use online resources built into your training – access a knowledge base, use a decision matrix, or run a diagnostic tool – as part of this decision-making process. You may have a stand-in character for your learner. Someone who is a fictional representation of their job title, for example, will come to a realization about the action he or she must take at this climactic point in the story. Again – we aren’t writing War and Peace, so this may only be a bit of narration or a video clip showing our character deciding to take action. The idea is to give your learner the message that they must gather information or diagnose the issue first (during the rising action), and then decide on the best action for the situation.

The resolution

Our story arc will end with resolution and conclusion. These steps show our learner the exact action they must take – again, through video, simulation, audio narration, or whatever media best illustrates their environment. If the climax maps to the terminal objectives in your training plan, the resolution maps directly to the sequential procedures the student will learn. This is how to do the task, or how to apply the knowledge you have taught them. The resolution is the meat of the training, and where you hope you have kept your learner’s attention so they can make the connections between the original inciting incident described at the beginning of your story and the desired outcome as described in the conclusion.

Story types

There are different story types that you can use when designing e-Learning. Each type uses elements of the story arc we have already discussed. The story type to use will depend on a variety of factors. These include whether the learning event will be live (such as a synchronous online class), whether the story will be a prerequisite that will be referenced during later modules of a blended delivery method, the types of skill or knowledge you are trying to communicate, and the time you have available.

E-Learning stories include examples, anecdotes, scenarios, case studies, and simulations. Each of these types has its place and its purpose. See Sidebar 2 to familiarize yourself with the definitions of each story type. Throughout the rest of this article, I will present examples of how my training team has implemented different story types in our e-Learning solutions.

 

 

Table 2 Story Types for E-Learning

(Definitions courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary at www.m-w.com)

Story Type Definition Use for…
Scenario A sequence of events especially when imagined; an account or synopsis of a possible course of action or events Illustrating a work flow, quiz, test question, discussion group
Example
  1. One that serves as a pattern to be imitated or not to be imitated
  2. A parallel or closely similar case, especially when serving as a precedent or model
  3. An instance serving to illustrate a rule
Quiz or test questions, introduction to a new job skill
Anecdote A usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident Cautionary tale, warning lesson, illustration for a technical detail
Case Study An intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to environment Testing students on transfer of skills and/or knowledge; complex interactivities, use throughout multiple modules to illustrate each step in a workflow
Simulation
  1. The imitative representation of the functioning of one system or process by means of the function of another
  2. The examination of a problem often not subject to direct experimentation by means of a simulating device
Software technical training, specific skills transfer

 

E-Learning at Sterling Commerce

Sterling Commerce is one of the world’s largest providers of business process solutions. We provide software and services to help our clients manage relationships with their suppliers, partners, and customers. Sterling Commerce is a subsidiary of AT&T. Our customers include Fortune 500® companies, and many of the world’s largest banks.

At Sterling Commerce, we have an internal training team that designs, develops, and delivers training for employees. We work with sales, pre-sales, technical support, and professional services (consultants). Our audiences are world wide, with students located in offices in multiple states in the U.S., and in Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, India, Brazil, and Mexico. We also have sales representatives and professional services consultants who work from their homes or remote offices away from an immediate community of co-workers. As a result, much of the material that we deliver is in the form of e-Learning. We design and build e-Learning modules; we publish videos and Podcasts, and deliver synchronous learning events through Webcasts and conference calls. We also blend learning delivery methods by asking students to complete prerequisite e-Learning modules, or view a Podcast before attending a synchronous e-Learning or classroom event.

Members of our internal training team use stories regularly. Each of us has our preferences for the story types we use and the media we choose to deliver our message, but our mission is the same – to teach new skills and transfer knowledge. The following examples demonstrate how our team uses stories.

Scenarios for customer support tool training

We teach Customer Support Representatives how to use their tools with a series of e-Learning modules. They must learn to use specific tools to find customer business data in a network, and track its path from a sender to a receiver. This is a core skill for our customer support staff, and they must learn it thoroughly so they can address customers’ basic questions quickly and efficiently. It is imperative that they do these “data tracking” tasks correctly each time, because failing can cause serious business consequences for our customers.

We build scenarios into the training modules for the data tracking tools. The scenarios propose a sequence of events and a possible course of action. They are stories based on real-life situations the student will encounter while doing their daily job. These scenarios provide lifelike situations, but the learners, customers, and systems are safe. There are no consequences for mistakes, and the learners can absorb the lessons and learn to apply their skills.

The instructions tell the learners to use a graphic of a telephone to begin each story. They click the telephone graphic, and a separate window launches to present the scenario. The student hears a ringing telephone, followed by a (staged) phone call between a customer in need and a support representative. The learner listens in as the support representative gathers the necessary information from the customer, then watches a video of the representative’s keystrokes in various tools as the support representative solves the customer’s problem. The scenarios illustrate all parts of the support call, including a professional opening and closing. Each part of the story arc is in each scenario, from the inciting incident (phone call) to the climax (solve the problem and take action) to the conclusion (record the incident in the customer relationship management system).

A single member of our training team designed and developed these e-Learning solutions using Macromedia’s Authorware.

Anecdotes in synchronous e-Learning delivery

One of our trainers, Jeff Barstow, uses a short, amusing story – otherwise known as an anecdote – to teach students about the concept of XML namespaces. He delivers this class as a synchronous online experience. Students log on to a Webcast to attend the live class.

The following is an approximate transcript of how Jeff tells the story:

We had two ladies come to work at Sterling Commerce. Both were named Lisa Walker. Both were tall, blonde, and had blue eyes. They started in the same department, on the same day. And, to top it all off, their cubicles were right next to each other. It drove everyone nuts trying to keep things straight when anyone mentioned sending an e-mail to Lisa Walker. The only way to straighten it out was to add their middle initial (which thankfully was different). So Lisa A. Walker and Lisa R. Walker became the differentiator. Namespaces serve the same function. If I sent you an XML document with two tags called, and one was referencing an array and the other a piece of furniture, how could a parser keep it all straight? Adding a namespace to make each occurrence unique is the same concept as using the initials for the Lisas.

The anecdote is a true story. Not only do the Lisas share the same name, but they share other characteristics as well. In other words, they were nearly indistinguishable to their new co-workers. Jeff goes on to demonstrate how namespaces in XML data could solve this problem, providing details that would differentiate the seemingly identical individuals.

The effectiveness of this short story, as with most anecdotes used for learning purposes, lies in the delivery. Anecdotes are funny, interesting, or biographical. They may not contain all elements of the traditional story structure. Often some of the elements are either implied (for example, people needed some way of telling the two women apart in Jeff’s story) or left to the learner’s imagination. The power of the anecdote comes not from its pure instructional function; rather, anecdotes grab the learner’s attention. They illustrate a moral lesson or describe a situation to which the learner can relate. The power of the anecdote is also in providing the learner with a memory tool. Hopefully, the anecdote is interesting or amusing enough that the student will tuck it away as a learning moment, using it later to remember the appropriate time to use a specific tool or apply specific knowledge.

Anecdotes are usually best suited for live delivery. A good storyteller brings across the humor or drama in the story. Because of their length, and their relation to the task or topic at hand, we have found that they are best told as part of a live event. They can be very effective as part of an online, synchronous learning event to help break up lecture and keep the learners’ attention. If you choose to use a true anecdote during your training, consider changing names to protect the privacy of those involved.         

Case studies in sales training

New Sales Representatives at Sterling Commerce attend extensive new hire training, including online learning modules, instructor-led presentations, and suggested self-paced reading. Sterling Commerce sells a variety of software products and services, and new employees often have difficulty understanding how those products and services work together to solve a customer’s business problem.

Over two years ago, the internal sales training team developed a case study, which provided context for the many hours of product training. According to Kim Miracle, a Senior Product Trainer, the case study “helps provide context for why companies purchase our solutions and describes the benefits our solutions provide companies.” The story also enables students to “go back to the story for perspective” as they learn about the products. Originally presented as part of instructor-led sessions, the case study describes a community of business partners, and how they trade business data and use Sterling Commerce’s products to improve efficiency. The story of each fictional company is told – including its industry, size, business challenges, and initiatives – at the beginning of the training module for the product or service. We assigned one case study story to each product to simplify the learning process. This enables learners to build foundation knowledge about one Sterling Commerce solution at a time.

After two years of presenting these stories in the classroom, the case study evolved into a Web-based solution. According to the sales teams, the “fire hose” approach of flooding new hires with large amounts of information on our complex solutions in back-to-back classroom sessions was not effective. It was too much information too quickly, with too little time to absorb it, and to truly understand how to use the information in the field. It also became apparent that keeping Sales Representatives out of the field, even as new hires, was counter-productive. Our sales teams are located all over the world, so the travel and expense of classroom training at our corporate offices was also a factor. If they weren’t talking to customers, they weren’t making sales.

Moving the case study stories and associated knowledge transfer to an e-Learning platform helped shorten the amount of time the students needed to be in the classroom. This change also allowed the classroom trainers to spend time helping students apply the knowledge through practice exercises that make new Sales Representatives more effective more quickly in the field. The internal training team shortened the length of the new-hire orientation classroom sessions without compromising the quality of the program.

They pulled the case study out of each classroom presentation, and moved it instead to a Web page. (See Figure 1.) The Web page contains a brief overview of the whole community of business partners, and a diagram illustrating their relationships with each other. Each element of the diagram is a link to the story for that specific company, including their industry, company statistics, goals, and most importantly, challenges within the community. We expect new Sales Representatives to navigate through the Web site, explore the stories for each of the companies, and continue to use the Web site as reference throughout their training. They are encouraged to go back to the stories for perspective as they learn about each product. Quizzes for each learning module tie back to the stories to help strengthen knowledge transfer.

 

Figure 1 We moved stories out of the classroom and onto the Web to facilitate Sales Representative training.

 

This blended approach – an e-Learning pre-work assignment combined with classroom learning – shortened the classroom sessions, allowed new hires to become oriented with customer stories immediately upon being hired, and provided reference materials that they could access at any time after training was completed.

The stories, themselves, are brief. You could consider them stories of discovery, because they encourage the learner to access more information online to complete the whole picture. Links within the Web site lead to self-study reading materials, videos, narrated presentations, and third-party Web sites. The stories contain the information necessary to illustrate how the product or service can solve a common business problem.

These stories follow the basic story structure; however, some we minimize of those elements in the interest of time. For example, you could represent the conflict for each story by a sentence or two describing the business challenge they have within this business community. One company may have problems shipping goods on time; another may need to make their cash flow more efficient to pay invoices. Granted, those conflicts are not very dramatic, but they achieve their purpose.

We spend more time on introducing the characters and setting (introduction in the story arc) than in the other story examples. This parallels the job of the Sales Representatives, in that they often must spend time researching their prospects – understand the company’s industry, business goals, statistics, and challenges – before they can address the conflict or customer challenge. Short, specific story conflicts help the new sales employee focus on the task at hand – choosing which of Sterling Commerce’s many solutions will solve the prospect’s problem.

We write these examples so that the climax and resolution are not necessarily part of the Web site or the information contained therein. The learner must work to discover the correct solution (climax), and demonstrate a basic understanding of not only how the product would solve the prospect’s problem, but also demonstrate how they would approach the prospect with a sales proposal for the product. This interactivity built into the story structure gives the learner more ownership of the story itself. The idea is that, if the learner has some control over the resolution, they will have that much more of an emotional investment in finding the correct solution. This is achieved through tools such as interactive quizzes online, role-plays, or activities that take place later in the classroom.

Although we have only recently implemented the Web site for these stories, class evaluations from students contain comments such as: “Pre-work site was excellent! A!” and “Case studies brought all the pieces together.” This is an encouraging sign that the learners are gaining knowledge and understanding from these stories in combination with more traditional training on products and services.

The sales training specialists designed and developed this e-Learning solution. They used HTML Web pages, and links to documents and Web pages to create the stories. They need no special e-Learning development tools.

Simulations in software support training

Simulations fall into two categories: simulations that imitate how a system or process functions, and simulations that examine a problem that cannot be the subject of direct experimentation. In training, we often think of simulations as a way to teach software features and functions. At Sterling Commerce, we use simulation stories to teach Customer Support how to perform tasks necessary to set up and maintain customer accounts and locate business data on a network.

Simulating the environment for our electronic data network is especially important because it has data moving through it for thousands of customers. Putting the data at risk by allowing new or inexperienced employees access to it is not acceptable. As a result, we developed simulations to teach procedures and tasks. Stories wrap around the straightforward e-Learning software simulations to make the learning experience more palatable – and memorable.

We use simulation stories throughout e-Learning modules for a mainframe terminal-emulator tool. Customer Support uses this tool to search for customer business data on our electronic data network. The modules begin by introducing a task, such as searching for data. First, we explain the process of searching for data, then we introduce a simulation story. The story is short, providing the first elements of the story arc on a single page, sometimes in a single paragraph. We provide enough of a story structure to give the learner a realistic experience, and a foundation on which to base their first attempt at a technical task. We introduce the character and company, along with their situation (conflict and perhaps complications) and the details needed to solve his problem (rising action). This simple story setup may look like this:

Your customer is Freddy Barker from Fred’s Dog Treat Company. He is looking for a purchase order document from his business partner, Pet-Right Pet Stores. The data has a sender ID of xxx and a receiver ID of 123. The document is a purchase order. We do not know when the data was sent.

The simulation then walks the learner through using the screens for a data search, instructing the learner to type specific values from the story setup at the appropriate times. In this way, the learner provides the climax and resolution story elements themselves. Granted, the learning module directs them; but, they are led through searching for the data and providing the answer to the customer. A short piece of text, as well as feedback given to the learner during the lesson, provides the summary story element.

We build the e-Learning module to simulate the real tool so the learner cannot tell that he is in a safe environment; he sees the screens act and react as if he is in the real tool. If he makes a mistake, we provide feedback in the form of text messages that explain what he did incorrectly and encourage him to try again. At the end, when the story has been resolved and the customer’s problem solved, the learner is given feedback again congratulating him on his successful data-tracking skills.

A single internal training specialist designed and developed these simulation stories using Macromedia’s Authorware.

Simulations in data standards training

We use the second type of simulation story type to examine a problem that cannot be the subject of direct experimentation. We built a simulation story about a data format used by financial institutions into an e-Learning class. The data-file format was new to our Customer Support and Sales staff. They needed to become familiar with the format, and with the business questions that surround its implementation.

We presented our story as a review at the end of the e-Learning module. We created fictional companies and characters, and placed them in a realistic business situation. We used fictional (but very likely) conversations between businesses to illustrate the implementation, so this story allowed our learners to experience a phone call between two fictional business partners, and experiment with making decisions on behalf of the characters.

Our story begins with Jack from Big Box Retail needing to send orders to a supplier called Robotics by Renee. Diane is his contact there. We used graphics (including fictional company logos and pictures of “Jack” and “Diane”), text, sound, narration with two voices to represent our characters and interactive multiple-choice quiz questions with feedback. (See Figure 2.) This allowed us to introduce the setting and characters, describe the conflict and let the learner be a part of the rising action and resolution. We asked the learners to listen to the conversation, and focus on the questions Jack and Diane asked one another. They then either made decisions for the characters, or anticipated what the characters would say. We presented feedback in the form of text and narration. If the learner made the correct choice, the conversation would continue and they would move to the next question in the simulation.

 

Figure 2 Meet Jack and Diane, just doing the best that they can.

 

A team of three designers and developers coordinated to create this course. The team built the material and the simulation in Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Captivate.

Tips for learning stories

Stories can and should be included in e-Learning design. Stories can accomplish many tasks for the teacher and the learner. They grab the learner’s attention, keep the learner involved in the material, provide some context around which the learner can relate new tasks to their job lives, and make a “human” connection during the learning process.

You do not need to be a novelist to add stories to your e-Learning projects. Some imagination, planning, and the right tools can help any e-Learning designer add stories to his modules. We found the following tips useful during our e-Learning project and story development:

  • Be aware of the structure of a story. Include only the details needed to give the learner the story arc.
  • Avoid unnecessary details, such as characters who do not have a role to play, settings that may confuse your learner, or details about a simulation or scenario that do not directly impact the learning objectives.
  • Always tie your stories back to the learning objectives. Use stories to teach – to accomplish a goal. Do not use stories as a break, or for simple entertainment.
  • Allow your characters to be stand-ins for your audience. They could share a job or title with your learner.
  • Make sure there is resolution. Let the learner see how the task they are being taught can solve the conflict in the story.
  • Plan to use a story type that fits with your course design, tools, and the media you have available. For example, use a software simulation story only when you are teaching a specific task in the software interface.

As e-Learning professionals, we know modern tools and e-Learning theory have changed the way we transfer knowledge. Do not ignore the timeless skill of storytelling. Talk to the classroom trainers you know. Ask them what stories they use when they teach live classes, and think about how those might (or might not) be appropriate to incorporate into an e-Learning module. Visit a third-party e-Learning vendor’s Web site, and look at some of their classes. Look, specifically, for examples of how they use stories, and what media they use to tell those stories. Most importantly, know your material. Find out what types of stories will have the greatest impact for your learners and use those stories to teach.

(The views and opinions in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Sterling Commerce, Inc. The author takes full responsibility for the information presented.)

Sidebar 1 Another Story Strategy – Rewrite a Familiar Tale

Turn a classic fairy tale into a learning tool by rewriting it to fit the lesson you are teaching. With a little imagination, you can use familiar characters and morality tales in your training to review materials, start an interactive activity, or provoke laughter that will help your students transfer the lesson back to their jobs. Include artwork – even basic clip art – and narration to enhance the storytelling experience.
Here is an example of a classic, cautionary fairy tale rewritten to help students understand the consequences of unauthorized Internet use during work hours. Ask some co-workers to play the parts of the manager and Red for the narration and add (non-copyrighted) music to help dramatize the events.

Inciting Incident

Once upon a time, Manager Bob demanded that Little Red quit surfing the Internet during work hours. The soundtracks to YouTube videos were just too distracting for Red’s co-workers. Besides, Red didn’t get her work done anymore. Manager Bob said, “Red, never surf the Net without permission!”

Conflict

After a week of good behavior (Red hadn’t surfed to a single non-work related site in five days), Manager Bob decided she had learned her lesson. He called her into his office. “Red, I need you to research this new competitor on the Internet, but be careful! Whatever you do – stick to work-related Websites. No funny business!”

Rising Action

Little Red started her task – using Google to find details on the other company. Soon, however, an ad along the right side of her screen distracted her. It displayed a colorful set of strappy new sandals – just the thing for walking to Grandma’s house this Spring. After two hours of carefully examining every pair of shoes on the Shoes-R-Us Website, she clicked the “Talk to a Customer Support Rep Now” button.
“How can I help you?” the Support rep typed. (Red was thrilled to be able to use her Instant Messenger to get her answers. Technology sure was beautiful!)
“My, what bright colors you have!” Red typed.
“Yes, we offer the best colors for Spring. We recommend everyone purchase at least three colors this year.”
“My, what a lovely collection of heels you have!” typed Red.
“Heels are in this year! You’ll need a few different styles to fit in everywhere you go!”
“And my, what a lovely shopping cart feature is on your site. Ordering is really this easy?” typed Red.
“Yes! Ordering is very easy, and completely safe, too! Just enter your credit card information, and we’ll ship your shoes directly to your home.”

Climax

Red dutifully ordered three pairs of sandals – all with different heels, and each in a different color. She was typing in her credit card number when Manager Bob appeared in her cubicle.
“What have you found out about that competitor, Red?” he asked.
“Um. Why, Manager Bob! How nice to see you!” said Red as she minimized her browser window. “What big eyes you have, sir!”
“Red! Have you been surfing without permission again?” Manager Bob thundered.
Red couldn’t bring herself to answer. She looked down at her keyboard and wished Manager Bob would go back to his office.
“I’m checking with IT right now to see where you’ve been surfing. We keep records of your every keystroke, Red. If I find out you have been wandering around on unauthorized websites, I’ll be forced to fire you!”

Resolution

Red was shocked. How could a little innocent shopping result in this? Life was so unfair! After all, she had to have the right shoes for Spring, didn’t she?

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