What can TV teach L&D? Season 2 Ep. 5 – The Imitation Game

Here is a transcript of Season 2 Ep.5 – The Imitation Game.

Hi everyone, my name’s Tom Hickmore and in this episode of “What can TV teach L&D?” I’m looking at The Imitation Game.

I make drama for learning, so I’m taking popular TV drama and looking at it with an analytical eye, asking “What can we learn from this that we can be applied in the field of learning and development?”

I wasn’t planning to watch The Imitation Game – a biopic about Alan Turning and the Enigma code – I just noticed it on Netflix and got drawn in.  Some time afterwards I realised that the effect it had on me is just the kind of effect I’d like to make with our dramas. 

Being a clever lot, I expect you know all about Turing and Enigma, but for the avoidance of doubt, Alan Turning was a British mathematician involved in cracking the Nazi Enigma code and knocking a couple of years off World War Two.  He was gay at a time when it was illegal and he may have had Asperger’s syndrome. 

Considering this film is a depiction of something as drab as code breaking, they made it pretty dramatic.  They characterize Turing as a misunderstood genius, who slaves away unaided, building a mechanical computer, while his disbelieving colleagues continue to try to crack the code using paper and pencil.

I’m pretty sure that never happened.  And I’m pretty sure this scene, in which the top brass come to turn off the computer before it’s produced any results, didn’t happen either. 

And the reason I know these scenes to be fictional is because, after watching the film, I read a biography of Turing. 

There were plenty of other inaccuracies, all introduced to bring out the emotional core of a story.  A genius, with his fantastic, original conception of the thinking machine, whose work cut short an immoral war.  Secret work he was never allowed to acknowledge.  And afterwards, this Great Britain, who’d invented modern computers, was chemically castrated by the government he’d served. 

Knowing this story is all you need to want to find out all you can about the guy.  And this kind of message is what drama delivers well.  An emotional message that stimulates discussion and discovery. 

The film didn’t tell me how to decode enigma, or how to build a computer.  It explained the very basic concepts though.  And in a way that, because of how bound up they are with the stakes of the story, I remember well.  You can teach some broad principles and even a few facts and figures with drama, and it can be very sticky learning, but if you try to use drama to teach semantic detail, you’ll undermine it’s core strength as a learning tool.  And you’ll make really crap drama. 

There’s a lovely little moment in this film that you might have missed – an homage to Terminator.  Terminator is, of course, about a war with machines, whereas The Imitation Game is about the first “thinking machine”, born in war.  Here’s the shot from Terminator and here’s the resonating shot from the Imitation Game.

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