PUSS GETS THE BOOT
I must have been in Standard 5th when I first watched the famous Tom & Jerry cartoon. My uncle intermittently asked a question, “Do you know what these types of movies are called, and which type of movie is most difficult to make?” I did not have an answer to it, so he himself answered, “These types of movies are called animations, and animations are most difficult of all movies to make.” I believed him instantly, as I had always done, since my uncles had always acted as the most important source of acquiring learning for me! It was years later that I started exploring animations from the perspective of cognition and Instructional Design [ID]. What exposed me to this thought was again another interesting anecdote.
While working with Belmaks Solutions based out of Faridabad [Delhi NCR], which happened to be the first organization where I was literally exposed to the concept of ID, we were all expecting a new type of project from a client – an eLearning project. I had little knowledge of eLearning or ID during those days; though, ironically we had been working on creating and reviewing Instructor Lead Training [ILT] courseware for our clients since years. All through these years, we had been reviewing the courses on various ID parameters quite unconsciously, never ever knowing that these were the much talked about ID concepts that we had been employing. While we were negotiating with the client for the new eLearning project in the offing, our project manager came to update us about what eLearning meant. “It is a type of courseware where you have to write as minimum as possible; therefore, what you write must be highly effective.” I could never comprehend what he meant that way – so I took it upon myself to explore the concept of eLearning and ID through the Internet Guru – GOOGLE!
My professional mentor, who used to head the operations at Belmaks but had resigned lately, then contacted me and further helped me to explore eLearning and ID concepts – I am compelled to present a standing ovation to her for this help of a lifetime!! Equipped with the primary and basic knowledge of ID, we attended the first client meeting soon after. The client wanted to assess our skills and ability to work on eLearning projects [obviously we were about to work on an eLearning project for the first time ever], so he posed a direct question to me, “If you have to teach preschoolers about traffic rules, how would you do it? This audience group would be least interested in something like traffic rules; therefore, one definite way is to slap them and make them learn, which is highly undesirable. Can you think of some other ways?” Must say that it was one of the questions I had least expected; and it left me groping for an answer for a few moments!!! I felt real nervous and red with the question, but then an instant visualization of a preschooler sitting in front of a television set came to my mind. Wow! A preschooler would definitely watch Tom & Jerry and laugh out his/her heart out!! “We will use some kind of strategy, such as story-based learning through cartoons – errr; something like Tom & Jerry??!!” I instantly and vociferously blurted out in front of the client. He seemed to be pretty amused by my reaction and body language then, and we ultimately clinched the project.
Beyond that, I ensured that whenever I watch Tom & Jerry, I would explore for ID clues that I may receive from the shows. That could well be a real creative treat in designing courses in eLearning specifically, since eLearning courses must be offbeat, latently departed from conventional courseware development – as I had learned from my little experience hitherto.
Ever since, Tom & Jerry shows have been a special source of inspiration for my creative pursuits! Some aspects that differentiate them from all other genres of cartoon shows are as follows:
1. The animation speaks for itself; mute the television to endorse this! No other cartoon show that I have ever watched would be equitably comical if you watch it muted. In terms of ID – let the eLearning modules do the talking themselves; I have learned from my limited experience that audio in eLearning courses are best only as supplement. An eLearning module dependent or replete with audio-based content is probably only a hindrance [read it as NOISE] to the audience. Unless either the audience or the ID doesn’t know how to differentiate between an eLearning module and a podcast!
2. The storyboards of Tom & Jerry shows are reputable endorsements of the cognitive genius of the script and plot of the animation story. See how the events unfold dramatically and blatantly, but yet you will never be able to predict what is to come next – something that engagingly binds you and keeps you glued to the television!! This spells something important with respect to keeping the learners engaged in an eLearning course. Some nice plots normally always start with Tom honking around to subterfuge the tiny existence of poor Jerry. However, they cozily end up with either Jerry defying the diminutiveness of his tiny existence and defeating Tom somehow; or Tom befriending him at the end to accept the triumphant demeanor of Jerry. Still other plots show Jerry’s melancholy and peacefulness being challenged, and Jerry demonstratively defying the diminutiveness of his tiny existence. Yet other plots seek to present an unparalleled discourse of friendship, when in spite of all odds of enmity between them, Tom and Jerry both are precariously cautious and considerate of each other’s wellbeing! That is, they would go on to defy all the mutual characteristics of the relationship between a cat and mouse to ensure that friendship triumphs!! Many other plots also divulge on the lesson of conferring justice to the victim – the character of Spike comes in lively and so intermittently woven with the same perception. The ID takeaway in this?! Story-based eLearning modules can be real fun for the audience; however, the underlying story must be subtle enough to infuse the learning required; else it is no better than a mere story.
3. The sequence of events are purely fictitious; yet their representation appears so real that you actually start acknowledging their verity and then endorsing it by laughing out loud! For instance, doesn’t it appear expressly real when Tom, who is chasing Jerry, is surreptitiously hit by an iron, and his face instantly changes to an iron-shape! This realization has a strong bearing specifically on the simulated learning objects that we embed in eLearning courses. Simulations as they are; might as well be fictitious; however, the acknowledgement of their verity must be sanctioned by the ID very cautiously. A seemingly difficult skill to acquire as an ID; this is one skill that surely promises to make a staggering difference between a good and bad ID!!
4. The milieu and ambience of each scene, in terms of the scene background, is vigilantly visualized, planned, and implemented; this is another aspect that appeals most strongly from the ID perspective. I have been inspired at numerous occasions by this meticulous preciseness of the scenes in Tom & Jerry shows to create user interfaces of eLearning courses. While working with TATA Interactive Systems [TIS], I realized that their concept of the “Big Idea”, which was the basis of the interface and interactivity designs, was decisively and outstandingly reverberated on this ingrained importance of the UI ambience. Unlike many other organizations where graphic designers alone might be entrusted with the task of designing the UI, TIS expects the IDs to visualize and design the UI, which are implemented and further enriched by the expertise of the graphic designers.
5. The visualization of the entire animation is perceptibly and excellently supplemented by the facial expressions of Tom and Jerry. To believe it, you must see Jerry gulp down a mouthful of saliva in anguish and fear when he is cornered by Tom! Another aspect of ID to learn – ensure that the content and idea to be presented must be enriched with anticipated and desirable supplements [both interactive and static] so as to fathom the exact takeaways by the learners. These supplements would go on to become great sources of retention for the learners.
6. Perhaps the most striking feature of Tom & Jerry shows is that each episode is short, distinct, independent, and self-sustained; even the sequels – unless its the Tom & Jerry movies, which might be comparatively longer. They comply so well with the concept of learning objects [not LEARNING OBJECTIVES], which must be short, distinct, independent, and self-sustained. Latest research shows that these short, independent, and self-sustained learning objects are received much better by the learners as compared to longer modules; and promise strong knowledge retention for the learners.
7. When we talk of learning objects, the role of reusability can definitely not be ruled out. Tom tries to hit out at Jerry, morphologically slides on the tabletop, is propelled by a standing fork at the end of the table [where he lands!!], and bounces into an open dustbin – DINNnnn!! Then, you could construe Tom being “starstruck“; colorful stars dancing in circles over his head. Now, if Tom tries to hit Jerry and succumbs to the same fate again and again, it spells a spectacular demonstration of the concept of reusability of “starstruck” Tom! However, in spite of their reusability of various scenes and plots at times, Tom & Jerry shows retain their trademarked and creatively patented excellence in entertainment and comedy for all age groups – hilariously gleaming and unmatched!!
To be Continued…