I had the occasion last week to attend a day of ComicCon. If you don’t know it, it is a conference about comics, but also much, much, more. It covers movies and television, games (computers and board), and more. It is also a pop culture phenomenon, where new releases are announced, analysis and discussion occur, and people dress up. And it is huge!
I have gone to many conferences, and some are big, e.g. ATD’s ICE or Online Educa, or Learning Technology (certainly the exhibit hall). This made the biggest of those seem like a rounding error. It’s more like the SuperBowl. People camp out in line to attend the best panels, and the exhibit hall is so packed that you can hardly move. The conference itself is so big that it maxes out the San Diego Convention Center and spills out into adjoining hotels.
And that is really the lesson: something here is generating mad passion. Such overwhelming interest that there’s a lottery for tickets! I attended once in the very early days, when it was small and cozy (as a college student), but this is something else. I haven’t been to the Oscars, but this is bigger than what’s shown on TV. It’s bigger than E3. Again, I haven’t seen CES since the very early days, but it can’t be much larger. And this isn’t for biz, this is for the people and their own hard earned dollars. In designing learning, we would love to achieve such motivation. So what’s going on?
So first, comics tap into some cultural touchstone; they appear in most (if not all) cultures that have developed mass media. They tell ongoing stories that resonate with individuals, and drive other media including (as mentioned) movies, TV, games, and toys. They can convey drama or comedy, and comment on the human condition with insight and heart. The best are truly works of art (oh, Bill Watterson, how could you stop?).
They use the standard methods of storytelling, strip away unnecessary details, have (even unlikely) heroes and villains, obstacles and triumphs). And they can convey powerful lessons about values and consequences. Things we often are trying to achieve. It’s done through complex characters, compelling narratives, and stylistic artwork. As Hilary Price (author of the comic Rhymes with Orange) told us in a panel, she’s a writer first and an artist second.
We don’t use graphic novel/comic/cartoon formats near enough in learning, and we could and should. Similarly with games, the interactive equivalent, for meaningful practice. I fear we take ourselves too seriously, or let stakeholders keep us from truly engaging our learners. We can and should do better. We need to understand audience engagement, and leverage that in our learning experiences. To restate: it’s not about content, it’s about experience. Are you designing experiences?