Creativity Precedes Technique

Our daughter was looking into what it takes to be an animator. She was checking out various computer animation and digital media programs. Interestingly, none of these programs really care about the applicant’s computer programming skills. They are looking for talented and creative artists. They will help them hone these skills and then teach them how to channel them appropriately in a digital environment. In fact, we heard from some that students will be free hand drawing and doing story boards for a long while before they ever touch a computer.

What’s this got to do with eLearning you ask?

I think eLearning professionals can learn from the approach used in the animation industry. As I have written many times in the past, I think the eLearning industry places far too much confidence in technology (e.g. authoring tools, learning management systems, content management systems, learning objects, etc.), and not enough on the human ingenuity and creativity required to make these tools sing.

As part of her research, our daughter checked out the Pixar site, her holy grail of possible future employers. They have a very interesting FAQ section for budding animators. Many of the things they say they are looking for in their animators are the things we should be looking for in those who design and develop eLearning. Here are some snippets from the Pixar site, followed by my take on how these principles apply to an eLearning context.

Pixar: “Pixar places the technology of computer graphics firmly at the service of the art of animation, not the other way around.”
eLearning Context: “We should place computer software firmly at the service of the art of learning, not the other way around.”

Pixar: “What Pixar looks for first and foremost in animators (is that) we want you to be able to bring the character to life, independent of medium.”
eLearning Context: “What we look for first and foremost in eLearning designers (is that) we want you to be able to bring the learning to life, independent of medium.”

Pixar: “A common question is, “What software should I learn?” The answer is….software doesn’t matter; learning to animate matters.”
eLearning Context: “A common question is, “What authoring tool or learning management system should I learn?” The answer is….software doesn’t matter; animating learning matters.”

Pixar: “Realize that whizzy technology is not great art.”
eLearning Context: “Realize that whizzy technology does not, in itself, create a great learning environment.”

Pixar: “Computers don’t animate. People do.”
eLearning Context: “Computers don’t teach / educate / train / engage / enlighten. People do.”

In the animation process, it is only AFTER the creative effort of animators working up characters and a strong story line is completed, that the idea for the movie, TV show, game is passed on to technical directors whose job it is to make this vision a reality. In much the same way, eLearning programmers and technicians should only start their work after an eLearning designer has constructed the creative vision for the learning experience.

Animators ensure that that the characters they create are interesting and that their story lines are compelling. Likewise, eLearning designers should ensure that the learning environments they envision are based on principles of active learning, interactivity, realistic stories, and are in proper context for the targeted learners.

Technology doesn’t magically create engaging animated stories out of a vacuum. Nor can it magically create engaging eLearning environments. Both processes require the intervention of creative human beings who understand the end goal and bend the technology to their will (not the other way around).

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