In 1883, the advent of distance education (or correspondence learning) introduced a new platform for learning using the medium of mail. By 1910, new technologies such as motion pictures and radio expanded platform choices. In 1924, Sidney Pressey introduced “automated education” that claimed clear educational benefits for learners interacting with machines. Machines, some believed, were beginning to make a shift from a previously passive learning experience for some to an active one, at least in the sense that it enabled a more individualized instruction.
Rooted in all of these learning developments is “story,” as it is the most basic way to share information. Narratives are woven into every facet of learning as people instinctively organize their thoughts as stories. Through the power of story, meaning and learning can powerfully coexist. Just as the early 20th century demonstrated expanding platform choices due to the advent of new technologies, the constant flood of new technologies since has allowed us the opportunity to rethink, restructure, and redefine the way stories are told and delivered. Technology has been the transformative agent that has enabled us to take this timeless art of storytelling and magnify its power and widen its impact.
Narrative, of course, fosters dialogue, builds connectedness, breaks down divides, and creates knowledge. But it is not merely the ‘content’ of a dialogue that constructs or constitutes knowledge – it is dialogue itself as a process that is critical. As Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, has written:
In order to understand the meaning of dialogical practice, we have to put aside the simplistic understanding of dialogue as mere technique … dialogue characterizes an epistemological relationship. Thus, in this sense, dialogue is a way of knowing and should never be viewed as a mere tactic to involve students in a particular task … dialogue presents itself as an indispensable component of the process of both learning and knowing.
Although throughout history, learning has been connected to storytelling, the new media that now surround educators and learners have forced us to pay attention to, and to change, how education is conceived. Transmedia learning invites students into stories in ways that they were unable to do before digital technologies existed and the Internet allowed us to connect in so many ways, so quickly.
In my opinion, transmedia’s crowning achievement will be in its application to education, and in particular to the creation of a wholly new kind of learning. Information will be conveyed to children, or actively sought out and accessed by children, in the form of narrative existing on and diffused through multiple media platforms – in this, transmedia will simply emulate how children and young people are already processing the world. The purposeful implementations of these techniques, if done well, will provide immersive and truly authentic encounters with learning. What makes transmedia special is that it merges technology with content and with genuine human experience. It will become an enduring bridge between the digital world and real life. Through the use of transmedia techniques, participants will enter, not just a story, but an entire LearningWorld.