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How the arts can help you get into e-learning

If you’re thinking of a career in e-learning but don’t know where to begin, have a look at this Creative Choices article.

Written by e-learning and Multimedia Specialist Laura Taflinger, it features advice from a range of contributors – including me in my previous incarnation as Multiplatform Producer for the BBC Academy.

Laura and I were part of the team who set up the Creative Choices website in 2007. Laura also edited many training videos for me while I was at the BBC Academy.

Carsten Höller: Decision – Southbank Centre

Entrance A or Entrance B? 

That’s the first decision.


We make our choice and enter a metal corridor. The door behind us shuts and we are immersed in total darkness. Voices echo in the distance. Our eyes, unused to such an intense nothing, try to compensate by creating strange made up splodges that float just out of reach.  We reach out to touch the wall and feel them vibrate with strangers’ footsteps. Slowly, we feel our way around the inky maze and eventually emerge into white light. 

The Decision Corridors (above) are genuinely disconcerting and a perfect gateway into Carsten Höller’s wonderland. 

High above us is a massive mushroom mobile. We turn the dial and watch them fly over our heads. These fly agaric, red and white  mushrooms are naturally occurring hallucinogens that feature in many works of literature (including one of my childhood favourites, Alice in Wonderland). 

Pharmaceutical time passes with Pill Clock (below). Every three seconds, another red and white pill falls from the ceiling to add to the ever increasing mountain on the floor.


The Forests is a very unsettling experience. It’s a fully immersive dual screen video experienced by a virtual reality headset and headphones. I watch people coming away afterwards: some are shaking their heads as if trying to re-connect with the room.  When I put the headset on, I realise why.  I am in a snow covered forest. A little way in, my eyesight is split in two as I navigate around a tree – my left eye veering off one way, my right eye in the opposite direction. Höller says this experiment in seeing double is an attempt to ‘disrupt the hierarchy of a single image’ and it certainly disrupts my internal hierarchy. I feel very disorientated and nauseous  for a good few moments after I leave the trees. 

Two lonely hospital beds (Two Roaming Beds) covered in crisp white sheets roam slowly but purposely through the lower floor of the exhibition. Are they  awake? Or are they sleepwalking? Dreams, for Höller, are a ‘short cut’ to a special kind of madness that we all have access to. Where do we go when we dream? Will we be the same when we awake once more? 

Upstairs,  a corridor of television features sets of twins. Each twin faces the other, exchanging a series of sung or spoken sentences. It’s a strange, intense experience walking down the middle of their relentless gazes, trying to make sense of snippets of conversation.  Höller records a new set of twins in every city this exhibit is seen in – there are now 7 Twins endlessly talking and teasing. 

A giant white Dice is an internal playground for children. They clamber through the black dots. It’s clearly an exciting experience for some and a slightly unsettling one for others who emerge  looking for their parents – before going straight back in again. 

Mirrors are placed around the walls. We watch ourselves and watch others watching us.  I realise I look subtly different and then realise why. I am not looking at my mirror image but rather seeing myself as others see me. 

Seeing the world upside down while I remain standing upright is a novel experience. Some people manage to walk around quite happily on the roof of the Southbank Centre with the Upside Down Goggles  but I am  not one of those. My hand remains close to a wall for balance as I experience my strange new world. 


The final decision is which slide to take to exit the exhibition – a glorious fast fall through space. 

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This is art that produces a physical reaction. It is not a passive experience – we become part of the artwork as we move around and interact with the exhibits. Höller says museums offer a ’space and time where you try things you can’t try otherwise.’  As I watch people’s reactions as they fly above Waterloo in one of the Flying Machines or emerge exhilarated at the bottom of the Isomeric Slides,  I think that is exactly right. 

Symphinity: a new way to meet classical composers

I don’t know that much about classical music.

Symphinity is a gorgeous way to learn. Its various playlists take me on many musical journeys; introducing me to various composers and the worlds in which they lived.

The carefully curated playlists by  Chris Barstow consist of recently recorded music for Radio 3 – including selections from this year’s Proms.

I have been helping spread the word about Symphinity: Radio 3 Breakfast presenter Martin Handley talked about it, BBC Arts have featured it on their homepage  and various social media channels have shared the URL along with with specially created bespoke assets.

Symphinity will run for another month on BBC Taster and feedback so far has been very positive.

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A day with Jeremy Vine

Thought provoking and energetic – Jeremy Vine attracts over 7 million listeners each week with his programme’s unique blend of fast paced news and music.

I love listening to the programme and jumped at the chance to spend a day with the team to discover how it’s all put together.

The day begins at 730am with the team scouring suitable stories.

At 8am there is a production meeting where approximately twenty stories get whittled down to the four that will make it to air in just a few hours time.

The team often have a couple of stories already set up ‘but these are subject to change if something else comes in,’ says Tim Collins, who is editing the programme the day I’m there.

By 915 am, the once quiet office is buzzing with people typing and talking to possible guests.

The producers write thorough briefing notes and a cue for Jeremy.

Tim keeps an eye over all the stories as they develop over the course of the morning. He writes the headlines and fills out the running order, looking at the scripts as they develop.

At 11am, it’s time to brief Jeremy Vine on today’s stories.

At approximately 1120am, Jeremy goes on air to say what’s coming up and calls quickly begin coming in afterwards.

At midday, Jeremy Vine is broadcasting to the nation. The big news stories today are the same as those the day before – the migrants in Calais and Cecil the lion. This provides the chance to explore different angles: how is life in Kent being affected by what’s going on over the channel and is the best way to save animals from extinction to hunt them?

A feature on the proposed closure of Penn School in Buckinghamshire has two very powerful callers – mothers who describe the bullying their children faced in mainstream education and their fears on what will happen if the school closes.

At 2pm it’s all over for another day and it’s time to hit the phones again to find out what’s going to be in the show tomorrow…

Related Content 

Tim Johns produces, reports and sometimes edits The Jeremy Vine Show and appears in my Social Media and the Law podcast.

WOMAD and BBC Radio: Sunshine through the rain

It was a wet and rainy Sunday drive home to London the day after a lovely, sunny christening in Sussex.

We turned on 6 Music just in time to hear Cerys Matthews crossing over to Radio 3 for the simulcast from WOMAD. Suddenly the grey skies, traffic and rain  didn’t seem so bad after all.

The rain was lashing down in Wiltshire too but Cerys, Mary Ann Kennedy and Lopa Kothari were brilliant hosts, bouncing off each other and the audience and clearly loving all of the acts they were introducing.

From the Tibetan yodeling of Nawang Lodup to the majestic Dona Oneche sitting on her throne – this was 90 minutes of joyful, global music.


This isn’t the first time Radio 3 and 6 Music have joined forces. In August 2013, 6 Music’s Mary Ann Hobbs and Radio 3’s Martin Handley did a record exchange simulcast ahead of Prom 40: The 6 Music Prom.

It’s a brilliant way of  encouraging crossover listening – while maintaining each station’s unique identity.

As we turned into our road, the simulcast came to an end…or had it…?

‘We’re back live this evening at 945pm,’ said Lopa ‘and we might kidnap Cerys…’

Heartbreak Hotel – The Jetty, Greenwich

A midsummer evening. Deep blue sky and a soft breeze.


The tired sun slowly falls in the west. To the east, a cracked, cream building glimmers on the horizon. Neon lights flash ‘Heartbreak Hotel‘.

We are  on the Greenwich Peninsula with the Thames flowing to our left. But as we check in at the hotel reception and look at the faded posters that line the walls, we know we have arrived in a place of lost love and broken dreams.

From room to room,  we are introduced to many different people. Some are funny, some are tragic, all are residents at the hotel.

This is immersive theatre at its entertaining, cruellest best. Many of the people we meet are instantly recognisable, for we have all been residents at Heartbreak Hotel at one time or another.






Branching narratives

Choose your own story

If, like me,  you grew up in the 1980s, chances are you would have loved reading  Choose Your Own Adventure books.


You were right in the centre of the story – and actions you made had a direct impact on the narrative. There were many possible endings – many of them fatal! But eventually, you’d learn the correct path through the story. You can learn a lot risk-taking in a completely safe environment.

Branching narratives are not only great for storytelling; they are great for learning too.

We are all natural storytellers. If the learner is asked to take decisions rather than passively watching or reading a narrative, they are more likely to be engaged and thus absorb the information.

A branching narrative can be a really useful learning tool for soft skills where there are no clear right and wrong answers. But producing branching narratives can be technically challenging and costly.

The BBC Academy used Twine to produce a interactive pilot Choose your Own BBC Career.

Below are some more examples of branching narratives.

Take the Knife

Take the Knife demonstrates one way of getting around the technical issues around video narrative by using You Tube– but the video still has to be produced many different ways so the cost factor could still remain.

You can see why this was made a branching rather than linear narrative. The decisions are the users to make. It shows rather than tells. The user is an active participant taking responsibility for their actions rather than a passive observer.

Connect with Harj Kamal

This was made by Kinection.  It takes a very sensitive subject and plunges the user directly into a warzone. The choices they make will determine whether the mission is a success or not. They have to decide themselves what will be the best way to connect with Harj Kamal.

Poetry Prescription

If you’re feeling a bit blue and you don’t know what to do…take a poetry prescription and find words just right for you…

Ahem. I am no poet laureate…but this commission for the Open University will help you find  the right poem for your mood. It sits on the  Open Learn platform – so after discovering your Poetry Prescription, you are in an ideal place for deeper learning on the subject.  This project was developed by Chromatrope.

And…branching narratives can teach people what your company is all about

US Interactive marketing company Jellyvision use a branching narrative technique to illustrate what their company is all about. Rather than just tell you straight off, they ask you to interact so you’re engaging with the company from the outset. This  gives you much more of a sense of what the company is all about. Personally, I had the impression the company was  fresh, slightly cheeky and creative.


Golem – The Young Vic and Trafalgar Studios

Visually stunning and mentally provocative – Golem is Metropolis on acid.


A glorious, heady mix of live music, animation and actors, the play explores our relationship with technology and our increasing reliance upon it.  Set in a fictional yet recognisable universe, the play uses the myth of the Golem as its base – the story of a man who makes a creature out of clay to work for him.

The Golem in this play represents technology and the market economy. The clay man is originally created to serve yet very quickly he is the one in control of his owner.  The market relentlessly pushes the consumers on – bigger, better faster, more!  Golem is replaced by the newer, faster Golem 2 and the clunky obsolete original Golems now litter the street – out of date and unwanted.

The play is by 1927 – a highly original production company which specialises in combing actors, animation and music. The actors work seamlessly with the fast moving images. The overall effect is unlike any theatrical experience I have seen before. Richly immersive and endlessly inventive, it’s a Technicolor parable for our times. Watch out, the machines and the economy are out to get you…

Maxine Peake – How to Hold Your Breath, Royal Court Theatre

How to Hold Your Breath feels like two plays smashed together. What happens when you sleep with the devil? What do you do if Europe suddenly crashes and you are now the unwanted immigrant trying to get to Africa for a better life?

Either one of those concepts could have made a powerful play but combining them together made for a somewhat baffling two hours. Running with no interval, the descent into darkness was relentless and confusing.

Maxine Peake (Dana) has a magnetic stage presence. She slides around the stage effortlessly owning each scene. But who is her character supposed to be?  Is she a spurned lover? Is she mad – is the Devil real? Is she supposed to be making us think about the shallowness of modern society with her specialist knowledge on ‘customer magnetics’? Is she a desperate economic migrant?


Peake is supported by a strong cast who do their best with language that can be very didactic at times. There are some nice comic touches including the librarian who keeps turning up with a self-help book for almost every modern-day ailment. The relationship  between Dana and her sister is touchingly portrayed.

Yet playwright Zinne Harris does not resolve the questions raised in her play. It’s never made clear whether the catastrophe was inevitable or whether the Devil caused it.

There are many uncomfortable ideas fighting for space in this play without a clear story. If it is  interpreted as Dana’s dream  or nightmare then the lack of narrative drive does not matter so much as dreams have a shapeshifting logic all of their own.

Futhermore, if the Royal Court wasn’t putting on confusing and bizarre plays then it wouldn’t be doing its job correctly.


History is Now – Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

How did we get to where we are today? Changing Britain at the Southbank Centre is a series of events exploring 70 years of British history leading up to the General Election.

Changing Britain

At the Hayward Gallery, 7 artists have curated 7 very different experiences for the History is Now exhibition. Each section covers a particular period of significant cultural change, from the end of the Cold War (Richard Wentworth – complete with a ground to air missile sitting threateningly on the gallery’s roof) through to mad cow disease (Roger Hiorns’ spellbindingly forensic examination of the outbreak and its chilling effects).


The exhibition demonstrates artists make great curators. Each section builds on the one before to form a clear, compelling and challenging exploration of Britain’s journey from the Second World War to today.

Simon  Fujiwara opens the exhibition with a sly look at our aspirational lifestyles and the high costs it has extracted. A lump of coal from one of the last remaining mines in the UK sits near the outfit worn by Meryl Streep as she played Margaret Thatcher. Empty Waitrose bags of Waitrose herbs lie near brooms used in the aftermath of the riots.

Hannah Starkey’s collection of photographs from the Art Council’s collection explores gender and social change. How do we interpret the meanings contained in these supposed representations of real life? John Hillier’s ‘Causes of Death’  – ‘crushed’, ‘drowned’, ‘burned’, ‘fell’ – is one photograph cropped four ways – four different disturbing narratives from a single image.

Jane and Louise Wilson look at territory, at public and private spaces and what happens when the two collide. Images of women breaking into the Greenham Common missile base are combined with chilling slogans taken from  walls in Belfast during  the time of the Troubles.

John Akomfrah explores montage as an artistic and a documentary medium.  17 films and videos flicker restlessly on screens, walls and monitors.

This is a highly original, thought provking reflection on Britain’s journey from 1945 to now. With over 250 objects to explore, it rewards a repeat viewing.