Transforming online learning through narrative and student agency

Robb Lindgren, Rudy McDaniel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Efforts to improve online learning have focused primarily on the technology platform for delivering educational content and supporting student discourse. In this paper we describe an alternative approach that invokes two powerful forces behind human learning: narrative and agency. Each of these constructs and their potential impacts on learning is reviewed, and the design of a large-enrollment online undergraduate course that leverages these elements is described. A study of student learning and engagement was conducted using surveys and an analysis of student projects on 96 students enrolled in the new course. Surveys were also administered to 129 students taking a traditional online course in other departments to provide a comparison data set. Results of this study indicated significant benefits of employing narrative and increasing student choice on interest and perceived relevance of the course material, critical thinking, and the acquisition of design skills. We conclude by discussing the implications of these results on the design of online instructional environments generally, and call for the increased adoption of interactive storytelling elements into web-based learning platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-355
Number of pages12
JournalEducational Technology and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency
  • Emerging media
  • Narrative
  • Online learning
  • Undergraduate education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Engineering


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