game of thrones swords

“You know nothing”– 7 things Game of Thrones can teach us about learning

Winter is here. The long dark wait for the next season of Game of Thrones has begun. This break from the action allows me time to ponder a question that I’ve been asking myself for a while now. What exactly makes it one of the most popular TV shows in the world?

The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale set another ratings high with 16.5 million viewers of the live airing alone, and this insane popularity shows no sign of abating. George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series, ably brought to life by HBO, has been compelling enough to capture the hearts and minds of people around the world. In the digital age, it may just be the most streamed and downloaded TV series of them all. Not bad for a fantasy epic set in a magical medieval kingdom.

But what have dragons and drama got to do with elearning? How might we take the elements that make it such a phenomenon and use them to make learning that’s just as popularly consumed? After all, using pop culture in learning can have tangible benefits.

In honour of the seventh season in the Seven Kingdoms, here are seven lessons we can take from the fictional world of Westeros to make our learning similarly captivating.

(Potential Game of Thrones spoilers ahead, reader discretion advised).

  1. Content connection

    The job of content creators is not that different to that of Varys, master of whispers. You need to include the most critical information, but you must also know how best to present it so that learners can connect with it and find it relatable. That’s what leads to changed behaviours.

    In my view, understanding why the subject matter is important to a company process, and the consequences of getting it wrong, are the grounding of good learning design and smooth course development.

    When creating the learning content itself, there’s something you absolutely need to know before you get started – and that’s the key metrics to be assessed to ensure the learning intervention has succeeded in changing behaviour.

    Never forget one thing: content is, and will always be, the ruler of the Learning Throne.

  2. Entertainment and engagement

    Content might be king, and yours may be the rightful ruler, but if you don’t present it in an engaging or entertaining way it can end up being like the most boring king of them all, Stannis (and look what happened to him).

    At the other end of the scale, take a look at Littlefinger ― he knows very well how far providing entertainment can get you in King’s Landing. And while we don’t approve of his methods, it’s still always beneficial to make your content more enticing and engaging.

  3. Character development and narrative

    Game of Thrones is full of characters we love. They’re the reason that we tune in at the same time week in week out, no small feat in peak TV’s age of on-demand binge-watching. We have to know what happens to them. Whether they’re “good” or “bad,” the characters have humanising qualities, making them relatable.

    Creating and using characters that are relatable for the learner and relevant to the learning is a key way to make your learning feel alive and keep your audience engaged. Couple this with a compelling narrative and you have a winning recipe that will keep learners progressing to the next “episode”, and coming back week in week out.

  4. Dragon fire

    Keeping a dragon or two around can also be quite useful. Just ask Daenerys Targaryen.

    In a learning context, by “dragon fire” we mean some kind of extra-powerful weapon or surprise in the learning intervention. Saffron’s, for example, is a deep understanding of the behavioural sciences.

  5. The importance of wit

    In the process of developing a course and running it on an LMS there are bound to be a few issues. More often than not, the key to overcoming those difficulties is being able to improvise quick workarounds. This quality is most embodied by fan favourite Tyrion.

    Tyrion uses his wit alone to make it in Kings Landing and beyond, avoiding fearsome knights, thugs, mercenaries, dragons, zombies, and (perhaps worse) relatives trying to murder him. This kind of resourcefulness, tenacity, and nimble thought will slay even the darkest days.

  6. Always keep your vows

    Remember Jon Snow? He would certainly tell you the importance of keeping vows. Sure, you might be tempted by wildlings or aspirations towards grandeur, but never forget your real mission and what your core values are. Always deliver what you promised to both your learners and the business.

    One of the easiest ways to anger a client or disengage learners is to compromise on what you’ve promised them, or to change the things that brought them to you. So don’t. Always improve your learning and add new features, but never betray what made it great in the first place.

  7. Always listen to your people

    Always listen to your audience, whether they’re clients or employees on a learning program.

    What could happen if you don’t? Well, you could end up universally hated like Joffrey, or with half of your followers abandoning you like Stannis. Or you could end up missing something vital, like Theon.

    Listen to what your clients and learners have to say in their feedback, implement those features and make the changes they ask for, and in general, try to engage in a fruitful feedback loop with your client base. That’s part of what being a ruler is all about.

So there we have it, seven insights from wondrous Westeros that will let you rise above the rest to claim the learning throne. Just remember these words that a wise man once (almost) uttered: “… a mind needs [elearning] as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.” Keep the principles we’ve mentioned in mind and you can’t fail to keep your learners keen.