Learning from film narratives

The representation of facts and knowledge is crucial to understanding. However, how this is done is not always in a linear fashion, nor in an as much depth as we see. Understanding how films are constructed can help us find new ways of approaching learning.

Compressed time versus expanded time

When viewing a film, time is compressed. Despite this we perceive the reality we are shown as real. This is like when a person is relaying an experience or when you dream. Not all the details are given but our mind fills in the blanks allowing us to engage with what we are told or shown.

When viewing lesson content through an online platform, the content is also compressed. Lessons cannot be as in depth as lessons experienced in the classroom. However as with films, your mind can fill in the blanks.

Also something to consider is the strength of the content creator. If the content is good, filling in the blanks or linking the lesson content is easier. Some online platforms work on a structure that functions in taking you on a path from point A to point B. This means that the lessons are designed to be followed in order.

Other platforms categorise the content into learning areas often listing the lessons alphabetically and not in any defined order to be followed. It is then up to the user to find the respective lesson or lessons that will assist them and they are not guided by a path set up by the course creator.

The similarities between the two types of platforms are that each respective platform has its lesson content condensed into bite-sized packages. This is to allow for quick viewing and only to provide the necessary information.

These condensed or compressed versions of the subject content are similar to how information in films is represented. Films based on a rich history, like comic book or historic films, cannot contain all the information associated with the characters in an average two-hour-long film. Films, like a course, are also designed to take you as the audience from point A to point B along with the main character.

Filmmakers and content creators share the common responsibility of providing enough information to engage the audience with content that is true to the source but not too overwhelming to follow.

When you start a course, the aim of taking it is to move and increase your knowledge from the starting point to the end. This can be viewed on a macro and micro scale. In between points A and B, there are many other steps that you need to work through to get there.

The devil is in the details – or lack thereof

Films often refer to a greater universe that the average user will not be aware of nor understand. These small nods or Easter eggs make viewers happy to see the inclusion but they are not overly crucial to the story. An example of this is the inclusion of the character of Victor Zsaz in the film Batman Begins (2005). A small detail that can easily be overlooked: Victor Zsaz is one of the villains Batman has in his rogue’s gallery. The character’s role in the film is small but significant but the significance is greater if you understand his history outside the constraints of the film’s time limit.

To place his character in context, Victor Zsaz is serial killer who marks his tally of victims on his body. However, in the film we just see him in a court case where it is suggested that he is moved to an asylum as he poses a danger both to himself and others. When he is released later on in the film, with the tally scars clearly visible, the significance of this event could be overlooked.

The same can be said with details in lessons. Most learners might overlook the significance of some information. However, the information is not necessary for the learner to know to progress forward or understand the concept. The additional knowledge surrounding a taught concept or subject much like the Easter eggs in comic book movies, provides a greater interest in a subject.

Expanding the universe

One cannot say that all online lessons are paper thin in the amount of work they cover; they are unable to provide the level of depth needed to master or know a subject. Even through a traditional education system, relying only on what is taught at school is not always the best option. More than one resource on a subject is always good to refer to.

Comic book universes are universes simply because they encompass many years and different mediums. Batman this year celebrates 80 years. Everything from comic books to video games, Batman is a recognised icon yet there are even small details that the average person would not know about him.

We must not overlook that many of the subjects taught at school also have a long history. Topics covered at school level have been presented in many forms of media and have a longer history then their comic book counterparts. To think that one website, book or even teacher can be the sole resource to master your subject is also a mistake. You need to expand your knowledge of your subject’s universe to be the master of your own destiny.

Begin with the end in mind

Gandalf –The Lord of the Rings -The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) said it best: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In an ideal world with time being no issue, we would be able to read 100s of books or watch 1000s of videos on a single concept or subject to appreciate it truly. But unfortunately we can’t do that and have to make the most of our limited time. So when choosing a path to take for yourself or your child, you need to find an approach that works best for what you aim to achieve.

Also, the choice of your approach is important. Provided your given platform of learning, you as a learner may be freed up to make your own path or restricted to follow a set path. It all depends on you and what you aim to achieve. You may only need a subject to obtain the requirements to enter a university and therefore it may not need to be your major focus. You may also need extra support in another subject since it may be something that you need to carry through or you are struggling with.

You are the master of your own destiny and you will need the backing of the right support and learning platform that caters for you and your method.

Stephen Covey lists Begin with the end in mind as habit 2 in his 7 Habits of Effective People series. The habit suggests that you should focus on the controllable aspects of your life. Choosing the right learning platform that suits you and your goals is crucial in achieving this.

A masterful director

A filmmaker that effectively makes use of the medium to great effect is Christopher Nolan. Each of his films is a masterpiece. One of his trademarks is his use of a non-linear narrative structure. Simply put, the path of the story does not follow the simple point A to B progression in time but challenges your perception, creating a further interest.

An example of the change in structure can be seen in his first Batman film, Batman Begins (2005). For the first 30 minutes the timeline of the story jumps back and forth. The film begins with a scene from his childhood establishing his fear of bats. The film then jumps to a scene in a prison cell which establishes the start of the character’s journey: the start of point A. However, the cutting back and forth in the first 30 minutes helps to ground and establish the character, making us, the audience, engage with the character before he starts on his journey.

The same approach can be used when working through lessons. Sometimes it is good to recap and orientate yourself before you embark on something new. Similarly you can also do the opposite. You can sample some of the more advanced material before starting at the beginning.

Christopher Nolan is known to do this in more than one of his films. In his film Inception (2010), he starts the film with a scene from the climax of the film. As the audience we are intrigued by this and when we reach the same point in the narrative later in the film, we appreciate the moment more.

This can be likened to attempting a difficult mathematics sum which is outside your scope of knowledge. There will be similarities that you will know and understand but there are things that you will have to master. After then going back and moving through the content again in a linear progression and then attempting the same sum again, you may have a greater appreciation of the work going into solving such a sum.

This approach can work when going through a subject provided that there is a clear understanding as to what your goal is to achieve. The back-and-forth approach helps to create an interest in a subject especially if the content is getting repetitive.

Understandably in a traditional school, teachers use the same back-and-forth approach to create interest in their lessons. Teachers often say “Remember when you did this in …” Revisiting old concepts and expanding on them helps to make learning more engaging. After all, learning is a never-ending journey and you can always rediscover something new about a subject by revisiting it or approaching it differently.

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