Use Twine for Branching Learning Scenarios

The open source writing tool Twine bills itself as an “Interactive Fiction” authoring program – a way for people to make text-based choose-your-own-adventure games and post them online. In fact, there is a vibrant community of writers who create their own branching fiction stories for others to enjoy and play.

However, we instructional designers should add it to our toolkit as a way of quickly and easily producing interactive learning scenarios where branching logic is required. It supports creating interactive dialogue trees and decision tree scenarios that would be more cumbersome in other Rapid eLearning-style authoring programs. The fact that it’s free, open source, and very fast to use makes it a valuable tool for creating interactive learning experiences.

What follows is a list of the reasons I think Twine is a powerful and enjoyable way to build branching learning scenarios, mixed in with a great series of video tutorials from Adam Hammond that made me fully productive with this tool in just a couple days. I hope you’ll take the time to explore this great tool and see if it can add value to your online learning projects.

Short Learning Curve

The main way you develop a Twine story is to create a series of “passages” — each passage represents one step along the path of your story. Passages are the game’s individual pages, and you can fill them with text, images, sounds, video — whatever works to drive your story forward.

You can create a link to a new passage that doesn’t exist yet, and Twine will create the new passage and add it into the overall flowchart of your story’s progression. Adding new pages and controlling the branching without taking your hands off the keyboard makes this tool feel very productive and efficient.

This simple text syntax actually CREATES the new passages and automatically links them together. 

I was quickly up and running after watching the first in Adam Hammond’s Getting Started with Twine 2.1 tutorial. Take a look and see how much you can do in the first fifteen minutes:

Styling your Course with CSS

All of the visual styling of a Twine story is handled by Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), the web’s standard language for the appearance of web content. The bad news is that you may not be a CSS expert yet, but the good news is that you don’t need to be. You can make simple changes to your Twine story (like changing the colors, fonts, and page layout) by copy/pasting code from other sources across the web.

Adam Hammond’s guide to Making your Game Look Awesome with CSS gives you a simple, complete, and easy-to-follow guide to customizing the look and feel of your Twine game:

Adding Multimedia

Even though Twine’s authoring experience is heavily text-based, it has built in tools to let you add images, videos, and music into your creations. This can add visual interest and truly dramatic moments into your scenarios.

While Twine doesn’t have the typical WYSIWYG tools you might expect for adding multimedia, this functionality is definitely supported. Adam Hammond’s Adding Images and Music to Your Twine Game should get you started.

Easy Interactivity

Twine has a lot of built-in tools for adding visual interest and dramatic functionality into your stories. There are a large menu of Javascript-based interactive events that can be invoked with a simple syntax that’s easy to learn (or just copy/paste!) These enable you to do cool things like keep score of events in the game or remember the name of your learner.

Adam Hammond’s video on Variables and Programming will help you add truly interactive game dynamics into your Twine creations.

To go even further, read the full list of Macros for Twine 2.1 (SugarCube). This is an exhaustive list of the built-in interactivity features you can use in Twine.

The Beauty of HTML

When you are ready to publish a Twine story, what you export is just a single HTML page containing all your content, CSS styling, and Javascript (if any). This means that anything you can do on a web page, you can do in Twine. You can find exotic CSS styles or JS-powered interactive elements from anywhere across the web and (with a little ingenuity) use them in your Twine creations. This might sound scary to designers who aren’t yet comfortable with these open-web technologies, but the creative possibilities make it worth exploring what you can do with a little code in the right places.

Of course, being able to wrap up your finished product as a single HTML file also may make it easy to publish on your LMS, CMS or publishing platform of choice. 

A Note on SCORM with Twine

I’ve been looking high and low to try to find a way to wrap Twine games in a SCORM wrapper so it can communicate completion data back to our Learning Management System. While this is theoretically possible, I haven’t found any clear tutorials to show me how to actually make it happen. If there were a simple way to add SCORM functionality to Twine games, it would really make it a viable alternative to other more traditional Rapid eLearning authoring packages you might use to create branching learning scenarios. 

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