In The Telling Brings Interactive Visual Storytelling to Next Generation of University and Corporate Learners

In the Telling Facts

Founded 2010
Boulder, Colorado
P2Binvestor client since 2014
Category: Educational services, digital media & visual storytelling

In the early 2000s—around the time e-books and digital media first began making waves in the educational realm—Kevin Johnson knew universities were on the cusp of something revolutionary.

For nearly a decade, higher education institutions across the globe had struggled with a puzzling yet pressing question: How can professors meld the tried-and-true lecture format with dozens of new, untested platforms available on every corner of the Internet?

For Johnson, the solution was more than a matter of blending the old with the new, particularly for learners familiar with both hardback textbooks and fluid social media. The key to modern-day education embraced the hybridity of modern society. No one student is the same—just as classrooms have always been—yet those individual differences are more pronounced and visible than ever.

“The lecture itself is a 1,500-year-old artifact,” says Johnson, co-founder and head of business development and sales for In the Telling. “The lecture is still very powerful—we’re just bringing new, exciting tools and mobility to the form.”

Enter In the Telling, a Boulder-based startup founded in 2010 by Johnson and Jeff Larsen, a fellow educational technology guru who recognized the same problems and promise of an ever-evolving university landscape.

Jeff Larsen of In The Telling, a Boulder Company

Jeff Larsen of In The Telling

In the Telling describes itself as a documentary instruction company engaged in digital storytelling, which is the founders’ way of saying that thoughtful filmmaking is the new university lecture. Primary videos are paired with literally dozens of supplementary materials – text definitions, PDF diagrams, additional video, anything and everything the cloud can handle—to create a rich, user-friendly classroom experience.

Except there’s no need for an actual classroom.

“This is one thing the iPad exploded: it democratized movie making,” Johnson says. “Now, everyone is making movies and that’s becoming the primary narrative. People are writing less and filming more, and we’re really starting to come into a visual-narrative paradigm.”

Think of it as learning for the TEDx generation: At In the Telling, each and every lecture is recorded professionally by the in-house production team, then enhanced with the company’s proprietary platform to include on-demand materials either found through online resources or provided directly by the lecturer. It’s hyperlinks without the text—a radical concept for anyone but the target audience.

“The paradigm of the classroom lecture is being rethought in higher education,” says Larsen, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who acts as chief executive officer and executive producer for In the Telling. “That realm is going through a real revolution in its structure, its teaching strategy, and increasingly universities are moving away from the lecture for these hybrid learning approaches.”

 

The visual paradigm

In the Telling is far removed from ramshackle start-ups looking to quickly cash in on a technological fad. The founders boast more than two decades each in the educational arena, with projects ranging from Larsen’s radio and film documentary work to Johnson’s early online development for industry leaders like Blackboard Inc. and Simon and Schuster.

“We’ve been able to apply a lot of the lessons we learned in the early ‘90s, back during the birth of the Internet, to new technologies like the iPad and mobile technology,” Larsen says. “That’s when educational technology really took off. We were pioneers in the field.”

Despite such promising shifts, Larsen and Johnson have watched educational institutions play catch-up as technology evolves at breakneck speed. The “eureka” moment for In the Telling came in the late 2000s, when the founders heard a shocking figure: In 30 days, more videos were loaded to YouTube than the three major American networks produced in 60 years.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the possibilities of giving the user control over a film narrative,” Larsen says. “Coming from broadcast journalism, this seemed to coincide with the whole revolution of educational technology. This was an opportunity to invent an industry.”

itt_cameraTo Larsen, it was clear the media paradigm had already shifted. But thanks to the same technologies that allowed for such rapid evolution, In the Telling could quickly embrace the transmedia approach, a concept pioneered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Henry Jenkins.

The most recent example of transmedia is the Harry Potter phenomenon: Mr. Potter’s universe lives and grows in multiple realms, from the original books and subsequent films to video games and fan-made video diaries.

“Media is diverse, and the story can continue on many trajectories,” Larsen says, tying Harry Potter back to his company’s video-learning platform. “We can introduce lots of different content to enhance the experience and enhance the learning. It’s about telling a story with many different tools.”

 

From classroom to boardroom

While massive paradigm shifts are often intimidating, especially in the tradition-heavy world of academia, educators have already embraced In the Telling’s deceptively simple platform.

Over the past four years, the company has built relationships with industry-leading educational publishers like Pearson PLC of Britain and John Wiley and Sons along the East Coast.

The company is also already in the process of filming transmedia-friendly lectures with “superstar” professors like Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University. The in-house production team simply records and produces the lecture, letting Stiglitz focus on what he does best.

“All the professors we work with love essentially having a studio attached to them,” Johnson says. “We’re helping upgrade their lectures, really turn them into that transmedia content that’s very experiential.”

itt-lensAnd In the Telling is about to give educators even more control over their content. This year, the company will unveil two new retail platforms, TELLING STORY Editor and TELLING STORY Producer.

The Editor platform gives educators the basic tools they need to produce transmedia content. Teachers and even corporate trainers can upload videos and edit supplementary content at will, allowing for mass customization of online courses already offered through In the Telling’s cloud-based system.

The Producer platform allows for total control – after all, the professor is the producer. That product is still in the beta stages, Larsen says, and the company is currently ironing out kinks with key clients like George Washington University, Columbia University, the University of Southern California, Purdue University, Middlebury College and Northwestern University.

Over time, the company will leverage university partnerships to produce licensed transmedia material that any university can access. In essence, anyone, anywhere can attend Economics 101 with Stiglitz.

And the possibilities branch beyond academia. Over the next few years, the founders hope corporations and professional societies will embrace the In the Telling platforms. As Johnson explains, the transmedia paradigm won’t replace reading and writing – it simply brings learning into the post-textbook era.

“At the end of the day, we’re all about engagement,” Johnson says. “When I think of the top 10 teachers I had, every last one of them was an awesome storyteller. What they did was stimulate my imagination, and once my imagination was stimulated I just wanted to know everything about what I was learning. We’re just bringing storytelling back to the center.

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