Narrative bridging on Instructional design

Don´t get confused if you recently heard me wishing you a great summer and then I pop up again. But the other day when a teacher asked me if I knew “gamification” I just couldn´t resist making another post.

Since my desire has always been to see the gap between instructional design and game design being bridged, not to mention how much I would like to see the narrative understood as a perceptual and cognitive process, the teacher´s question made me think about my grandmother when she, before her marriage, was asked if she could bake. To which she responded that there were other things in the world than baking. When I replied to the teacher that I knew the term “gamification” but implied that I also knew some other things, I could hear my grandmother´s lifelong saying about the baking. Then the gates suddenly opened when the teacher told me that she had seen the plotting of the online game “Journey” in the series “Don´t show, involve” and wondered if “it” could be used in teaching. With the same excitement as my grandmother would show off other skills I will, from a teacher´s perspective on the construction of a meaningful experience, show how Narrative bridging can be used in the same manner as I did with “Journey” but this time in a context of a classroom.

Like I based the plotting of “Journey” on an interview with the game designer Jenova Chen (see Gamasutra) I will proceed from a ten minutes interview with a teacher from a Swedish radio program (see Didaktorn). Don´t worry about the interview being in Swedish. As the process considers the arrangement of thoughts towards a goal you can just choose any teacher that shares and formulates his or her thoughts towards the desired outcome in the design of a form for learning. Since the process of thinking is the focus, just follow the steps that I´m about to show with the help of the thought-based method Narrative bridging. Also, if you haven´t seen the plotting of “Journey,” please check “Part 2, Don´t show, involve” as to get familiar with the narrative as a perceptual-cognitive process.

Since we can´t see from the results of the teacher´s design how it was perceived by the pupils as we could see the outcome from Jenova Chen´s and his team´s construction of “Journey”, the incentive is to make the respective processes of plotting of a meaningful experience tangible for everyone to follow, compare and evaluate.

The creation of a “feeling of a meaningful learning.”

The starting signal for Jenova Chen´s process to create “Journey” was from a negative experience from playing an online game where people were competing instead of collaborating. In the same manner, the teacher´s process started from a negative experience from seeing a system that advocated a disciplinary order that made the pupils feel fear. From experience, the teacher directs his thoughts towards a collaborative system where everyone should feel that the learning is meaningful, which also becomes the premise for the plotting that will now be depicted through Narrative bridging.


When the teacher takes perspective and sets the goal/premise/vision, based on the interview the teacher formulates the goal as follows:

1. The learning should feel meaningful for everyone.


Since the teacher is directing the goal/vision (1) towards a specific medium the stylistic elements that are available to be part of the overall goal look like following:


The stylistic element of mechanics represents the system of norms, conventions, cultures, ideology, law, etc. that regulates the behaviour, rules and goals of a learning system/space. When the teacher, for example, expressed a negative experience about a system advocating a disciplinary order that created fear, the teacher pointed at a mechanic that he is about to change through the creation of a new mechanic.

Since the teacher has defined learning as a part of the goal (1) the teacher makes the mechanic of learning available, depicted below:


Because of the fact that the mechanic and the goal need a form to reach a desired outcome (1), the process continues by defining how to make the mechanic, learning (1) to become meaningful for everyone. By balancing the possibilities and constraints in a context, in this phase, the teacher is focusing on how to make the learning to feel meaningful for everyone.

2. Get more pupils to think/learn (to think is to learn).
3. Activate everyone in the classroom.
4. Threats of disciplinary actions are not meaningful.
5. No penalty if not attentive/revise instruction.
6. Allow mobile phones (“If mobile turns up it indicates that my lesson is not meaningful”)
7. Asking/answering questions engage thinking/learning
8. Make everyone reflect.
9. No individual raise of hands to answer questions (doesn´t activate all to think/learn).
10. Collaborative learning.



What it means from a narrative perspective to create a form is that one lets the narrative assist the style and the goal to reach a form that gives, in this case, the learning (1) a meaning. Since the teacher has through the previous phase (the orange part) formulated the possibilities weighted with the constraints (2 – 10) the process continues to reach the goal: to create learning that feels meaningful for everyone. What can be noticed in this phase is how the mechanic of “learning” will become tangible (and re-named) through the creation of meaning.

11. Classroom
12. Pupils´names written on slips.
13. A container to keep the pupil´s name-slips.
14. Randomised question/answering system.


A randomised question/answering system

As you can see, the mechanic of learning (1) has been changed into a mechanic of a randomised question/answering system (14). From the result of the creation of meaning to reach the goal of learning that feels meaningful for everyone (1). By having a container that keeps the pupil´s names, which the teacher pulls the slips from (12-13) in a classroom (11), the teacher has captured following thoughts from the “orange phase to reach the form:

Context/space of possibilities

2. Get more pupils to think/learn (to think is to learn).
3. Activate everyone in the classroom.
7. Asking/answering questions engage thinking/learning.
8. Make everyone reflect.

The teacher doesn´t call the result of a randomised question/answering system a mechanic (14). Instead, the teacher refers to the result as a method. From the interview, the teacher tells how the method (14) is used together with other methods akin to the learning/motivation theories the teacher advocates (ex. “See 3 before me”, “Think-pair-share”). However, what´s interesting is how the combination of the methods to reach a goal of meaningful learning in a classroom are reminiscent to a game design´s combination of mechanics to reach a meaningful playing (see the plotting of “Journey”).

The engagement of mechanics respective methods that appeal to our core cognitive activities also shows how the perceptual and cognitive activities of learning and playing aren´t two different activities. Instead, it is a system of norms, conventions, cultures, etc. that makes the actions of learning and playing may appear as different depending on the contexts (about learning and playing, see also “Part 3, Don´t show, involve“).

What mechanics can tell us about learning and “gamification.”

Though the initial question was about “gamification” and where I implied that there was more to be added; the narrative, from a perceptual and cognitive perspective on the design process, is one of them. If we take a look at the teacher´s design of meaningful learning and the result of a form of a mechanic/method of a randomised answering/question system (14), these kinds of tailored mechanic are rarely seen in the concepts of “gamification”. What you usually find are scores, badges, leaderboards, challenges and constraints in time, hinders, etc.

The question is how we could understand the mechanics within “gamification” that are said to be based on game design elements applied to non-game contexts when there are for example no such mechanics in “Journey”? When seeing the reminiscence in the cognitive processes of plotting performed by the teacher and Jenova Chen, since “Journey” is a game and the school is considered to not be a context-related to games, what is it that makes “gamification” contextually differ between instructional design and the game design process? If looking at the perceptual and cognitive tailoring of mechanics performed by the teacher and Jenova Chen where both take the emotions into consideration as to work in a positive direction, what happens to the learning in games if they contextually are about playing? If the concepts of “gamification” consider due to the different contexts that there is no learning in playing but where everyone that works with game development knows that learning is vital to the design, what is “gamification” then?

Even if the teacher doesn´t mention the theoretical background that he bases the design on. If familiar with the motivation theories one can see how the teacher clearly takes a stand against one of them – the behaviouristic view on learning that advocates correction of behaviour through punishments and rewards. The reason the teacher resists a behavioristic approach is that he sees a negative impact from punishment on the emotions that lead the learning in a negative direction. Interestingly, when taking a closer look at the elements that define a behaviouristic approach of rewards and punishments, the elements are also commonly used mechanisms within the concepts of “gamification”. Through the teacher´s reasoning, one can see how the “gamification” is rather a disguised motivation theory that doesn´t emotionally support the learning in a positive direction. It rather divides and turns into the experience of a competitive environment, where some are rewarded and some aren´t. This in turn resembles Jenova Chen´s negative experience from playing an online game where people were competing, which made Chen create a game where people collaborated.

And since I wanted to show how the teacher, in the same way as Jenova Chen and his team were considering the learning and the emotions in their respective processes in creation of a collaborative system, I have saved the last mechanic/method that the teacher created that concerns the goal of learning to feel meaningful for everyone (1). Since the method Narrative bridging is agile, just like our thinking, I will go back in the process and pick up some parts from the “orange phase” that haven´t been used yet:


4. Threats of disciplinary actions are not meaningful.
5. No penalty if not attentive/revise instruction.
6. Allow mobile phones (“If mobile turns up it indicates that my lesson is not meaningful”).
10. Collaborative learning.

and FORM

What the teacher does is to create a meaning to the goal by taking the parts (4, 5, 6 and 10) that concerns the learning to feel meaningful for everyone (1) to create a form. This means that the teacher is also splitting the initial mechanic of learning (1) into a new mechanic to be added to the mechanic of a randomised question/answering system (14).

1. The learning should feel meaningful for everyone.
15. No penalty if not attentive/revise instruction.
16. Allow mobile phones (“If mobile turns up it indicates that my lesson is not meaningful”).
17. Collaborative learning.

What the teacher has made is an additional mechanic/method to the randomised question/answering system (14) where the teacher includes himself to be a part of the goal (1), and that is a mechanic of collaborative learning (17). Through knowing how emotions work on our learning and to avoid a negative direction on the learning, the teacher uses elements that can indicate if the attention decreases by allowing mobile phones (16). In the same way, as the randomised question/answering system (14) is there to prevent the pupil´s attention to drop, the mechanic of collaborative learning (17) with the help of allowing the mobiles the teacher creates a mechanism/method (17) that makes him stay attentive as well. If a mobile phone is used, it´s an indication to the teacher to revise and improve the teaching to become meaningful. In this way the teacher makes the collaboration reciprocal.

But let´s say that we change the mechanics 14 and 17 into “gamified” mechanics of scores, badges, leaderboards, challenges and constraints in time, hinders, etc. What would happen to the goal/premise?

1. The learning should feel meaningful for everyone.

What would happen to the teacher´s and the pupil´s attention/focus and how would the changed mechanics affect the behaviours, rules and goals in the learning space? What kind of new creation of meanings would be made that influences the form?

If you would like to explore and see what happens to the goal/form if changing the mechanics, I suggest that you use Narrative bridging, and besides the teacher´s design you can also see what happens to the goal and the form of “Journey” (see Part 2, Don´t show, involve) if applying “gamification”-based mechanic.

Wrapping up

Since I know that “gamification” is a concept that is marketed as an easy way to apply “fun” on contexts, I have no objections that we could all need some more fun and where we should definitely play more (as there is nothing that unites us as playing and learning). However, what I would like to do is to raise awareness about the perceptual and cognitive aspects of the concepts of “gamification” and how an extrinsic motivation works on our emotions. It is also important to be aware of how the “gamification” categorising contexts, humans and activities that obscure the understanding. What also happens if someone asks if you would like to make a context fun, it is very hard to not appear as negative if one would like to point at difficulties with the concept and the use of it. However, what to be attentive to is how the concepts of “gamification” easily divide people instead of promoting a reciprocal collaboration. Though the dilemma is that sometimes it´s fun to compete and sometimes not. If feeling awkward from being “gamified” in a so called non-game contexts, my advice is to ask who it is that wants you to compete and what the purpose is. Then it gets a lot easier to distinguish the fun from the not so fun.

When I met the teacher who asked me if I knew “gamification” the question was based on a categorisation of norms, conventions, cultures, etc. that, in my case, regarded an additional element that concerns the narrative. It´s therefore not coincident that the method is called Narrative bridging as that is what the method and I are mostly occupied with when bridging the gaps by forwarding the narrative as a perceptual and cognitive process in any context where the construction of meaningful experiences is the goal (even competing environments if the experience leads in a positive direction). This time the method and I had the pleasure to meet a teacher who could see that there were more to be added beyond the concepts of “gamification” (my grandmother would have loved her) through the use of Narrative bridging and where the teacher had recognised the similarities in the approaches between her and a game designer.

If you found Narrative bridging interesting, there are a lot of exciting readings on this site that concerns the narrative as a cognitive process, the construction of learning/playing and how to understand feelings and emotions in construction/design of a meaningful experience. Even if I´m pausing at the moment, if you have any questions, don´t hesitate to ask, as who knows, I may pop up again.

Take care!
Katarina Gyllenbäck


Recommended readings:

If you are interested in reading more about emotions and learning, negative and positive directions on our experiences, don´t miss “Narrative patterns of thinking.”

PS If you wonder how Narrative bridging looks like when the design of meaningful learning has reached the vision, it looks like follows:

As when the desired goal is reached and the thinking is completed, Narrative bridging does not exist until you decide to start a new process.








Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.