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How can instructional design assist children to be prepared to protect themselves from adults or other who may try to convince them to do something they don’t feel is right?

The True Issues

We were approached by Making Right Choices with a unique idea to conquer a diffcult challenge. The challenge was rooted in an intriguing question: how do you prepare children to protect themselves from adults or others who may be trying to take advantage of them?

Untold training modules and classes have been developed for adults to help them identify and expose predators. But for those ‘leopards’ who still manage to hide their spots, how could children be trained to repudiate their advances? The final program would need to appeal to children of different ages and backgrounds. It would need maintain the attention spans of elementary, middle, and high school students. It would need to tiptoe the very fine line between providing principles and techniques applicable to any situation, but without getting mired in overly specific or controversial topics.

Striking that threeway balance proved to be the greatest challenge in designing a solution. The chasm between the way elementary and high school students learn is vast nearly intraversable. Each group is dealing with unique challenges at every age. So each aspect of the program from writing style to narrator to music would need to simultaneously appeal to vastly different audiences and provide each group with tools that were as accessible and useful to one group as they would be to another. We knew focus groups and learner feedback would be a critical aspect of the solution design process. Comments from kids, teens and young adults from different backgrounds would inform our decision-making and guide us to reaching our goal.

Another challenge was how to portray “the bad guy.” What do you call him? What does she look like? How do they sound? What age are they? In real life, people who want to harm children may appear respectable or even ordinary on the outside. But more so than their appearance, their motives and tactics make them consistently recognizeable. So we needed, not just “a bad guy,” but rather a method to demonstrate that no matter what a trickster may look like, their actions always betray them.

A True Solution

Say Yes to the Criteria

Two concepts that stayed at the forefront of our minds during the development process were:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Diversity

In creating a solution that appeals to a large group, we wanted everyone to feel represented fairly and to identify personally with different aspects of the solution. Right away we rejected the idea of an e-learning module. Unless it was designed as a fully functional serious game, the technical considerations and learning curve for younger students made that solution implausible.

For that reason we determined that a blended learning solution would likely be the most effective route. Initially, the solution would be made available to schools. But school is not the only thing children do everyday. Involvment in volunteer organizations, religious groups or sports teams add to their diverse experiences. It was our hope that these organizations would also be places where children and teens could be educated and have conversations about how to avoid those who try to take advantage of them.

We felt that a learning solution that enabled a discussion with a spiritual or community leader or a mentor in sports or volunteer activities could reinforce the value of the material and really effectuate change. We deicided to create a short whiteboard animation video accompanied by a handout with discussion questions and activities.

Design and Development

We worked with an illustrator to thoroughly brainstorm our ‘Trickster’ (bad guy) character. Ensuring that character would reflect diversity over the course of the video but still maintain consistent traits or attributes was crucial. We also come up with a variety of ideas for diverse characters and scenarios that would show how to identify tricksters and appropriately react to their malfecience. We intentionally kept the animation and drawing style simple. We wanted the focus to stay on the message and allow the medium to provide clarity for the learning experience without being the learning experience itself.

Choosing the right voices was a major part of production. Sound design and music production were utilized to bring the scenarios to life and provide levity to some of the more complex issues. We worked with our SME to brainstorm ideas as to how we could create a single activity document that included concepts from each portion of the video, but still provide direction to the different individuals who may lead a discussion outside of the classroom using this learning experience. All items were developed and iterated simultaneously which allowed each piece to inform and shape others. This created greater harmony within the entire experience.

True Challenges

In development and implementation we found that making choices to appeal to a wide range of diverse age groups is like serving one dish that is also everyone’s favorite food. Several of the focus groups, as well as other professionals in the field, did not like one of the voices we chose as narrator. The client felt strongly about the voice and they wanted to go ahead with it. But several negative comments after implementation led to a decision to change the voice.

The True Yes in The Real World

True Lessons

Both decisions, to overrule initial focus group/learning feedback with a personal preference and to later reverse that decision and redesign or reproduce an aspect of the experience, taught us a crucial but simple lesson: listen to your learners. Designing, not just with your learners in mind, but based on what they actually say or how they really react to the experience is the difference between a successful implementation and wasted time and money.

Our hope is to incorporate more focus grouping and learner feedback into future learning experience designs from the very beginning of the development process. We want the experience to be the best it can be for the learner, not for the designer.

True Benefits

The pandemic delayed our initial implementation plans from 2020 to 2021. We are seeing the program roll out as a pilot to some schools and communities. We hope to see more students taking a stand against tricksters as well as more adults having these kinds of important conversations with children to enable them to protect themselves against those who wish to do them harm.

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Brian Harris

Brian Harris is the Chief of Design and Development with Brilliant Educational Services. He specializes in producing learning experiences and educational materials that are engaging, entertaining, and effective.