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Learning Design from The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

You may have seen the teaser to this post already on LinkedIn, but I am IN LOVE with The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. And while I enjoy just sitting down to watch it for entertainment purposes, I want to talk about Netflix's/McConnell's unique approach to what my co-founders at margoe call "edutainment." There is a lot that can be learned about great learning design from this show.

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is sort of like the Addams Family meets Julia Child and brings along the Dark Crystal (feels kinda like the Jekyll & Hyde Restaurant in NYC). It blends the traditional home cooking/DIY show with dark humor and the macabre, and of course, there are Hensen alternative puppets! There's a lot to love.

While the show has some silly plot lines, McConnell also teaches the viewer how to bake, whip up dinner, craft batwings, and sew. She does such a great job connecting that I feel able to take up the challenge of building a massive "ginger dead house" with candy glass windows or make a date night satin gown after watching her do it (whether or not I can remains to be seen). It's effective, which I'm defining as : (1) the learner understands and can demonstrate the techniques taught; and (2) the learner feels confident in their ability to perform the task.

What works?

Truthfully, there's a lot that works, and I could spend days writing about, but for now, I've picked the top 3 takeaways.

A Trustworthy Guide- From her calm, reassuring voice, to her perfected look, to her menagerie of curious creations that she pulled from death herself, McConnell projects the image of both an expert and someone who genuinely wants to help you learn. She creates a persona that draws in viewers; you want to emulate her. Furthermore, McConnell acts as a coach. She consistently motivates you to stick it out through the long process of making a masterpiece by reminding you about the value of homemade gifts. She encourages you should be patient with yourself. While letting you she is the expert (and a bit of a perfectionist), McConnell makes it a point to say that it takes practice and mistakes aren't the end of the world.

Novelty and Familiarity - When we see something new, it triggers our brain to take note for survival purposes. At the same time, our brain needs to access prior knowledge from which to build new schemas. McConnell blends the two perfectly. The format of the show is one example. We never see cooking shows placed within actual storylines, which makes it jarring, but we do recognize each separately. We rarely see muppet-like puppets placed in a goth aesthetic, but we recognize each separately. We've seen people bake masterpieces, but most of the time, spooky stuff is kitschy rather than artistic. It's all slightly new, slightly seen it before, so we feel confident to immerse ourselves while being engaged enough to want to learn/see more.

Structured Lessons - McConnell's structured lessons are very clear. They start with a blueprint and then she walks through each step linearly. Throughout the lesson, she shows what the end product of each step should look like and how to get there. In other words, she sets the expectation and gives viewers what they need to meet them. While she moves quickly through some actions for the sake of the show's time format, she does a great job of breaking down otherwise very complex tasks. It would take me quite a bit of practice and time to recreate her masterpieces, but I am confident that if I followed her instructions, I would be able to make my own level-appropriate versions.

With Halloween right around the corner, I can't recommend you check out The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell enough (though it may be a bit more adult-themed than the puppets let on). If you do, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did you learn anything new? Did make your own ginger dead house? Please do share!

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