Monday, February 20, 2017

Stories of Real-Life Fiascos and Blunders Motivate Learners - Tip #121

Have you ever tried teaching a new employee how to use the software your company currently uses? Did you find it easy to teach or were there challenges you encountered?

Now, think about training employees about your branding or corporate identity? Was this easier or harder than teaching them how to use the software?

Most content discourage learners because the concept is too foreign. Or they may think it’s not applicable. Sometimes, they simply can’t associate any meaning with your training content.

The challenge then is how to make learning ideas concrete.

Why Stories?

By relating abstract ideas to familiar events, stories go beyond educating and engaging learners logically. They also inspire and motivate learners by involving them emotionally.

By letting learners see both the positive and negative impacts of certain actions, stories can influence the way people think, feel and act. They can create a shared vision of the company’s future, help employees accept new initiatives, and impart corporate culture and values. In short, stories can be agents of change within your organization.

3 Tips on Building Story-Driven Lessons

Do you know of any blunders or fiascos within or outside your organization? Don’t be afraid of them. Rather, use them to drive a point.

Follow these 3 tips and building your story-driven lessons should be easier.

1. Know your audience

What lessons do your learners need to learn? You can connect the fiasco or blunder to learning objectives and focus on the consequences of what happens if learners fail to succeed or do something. Make them think about the effects of failure.

Take a look at these examples:

Illustration 1

Abstract: Follow ethical standards.

Concrete: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades.

Illustration 2

Abstract: The right temperature setting is below 350 degrees.

Concrete: An explosion happened at 350 degrees which damaged the boiler.

2. Have a clear theme in mind

Ask learners a story question. This draws learners into the story and helps them relate to and interpret the fiasco or blunder.          

Using Illustration 1 as an example, here are possible story questions a trainer may ask learners:

Illustration 1: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades
  • Has this happened to you?
  • What could be the reasons for this?
  • How does this impact your performance and reputation?
  • How would a situation like this impact your income, job, and family?

As you probably notice, story questions make it clear to the learners how doing or not doing something will impact themselves and others. Story questions carry concrete messages about the consequences of their actions (e.g., reputation, income, family, and performance).

3. Choose real-life stories

Use real-life stories because these stick in the memories of learners.

Don’t fake the stories. Obtain the stories from events that actually happened and use facts to support them. You can source these stories from your company data or employees in the following areas:
  • Errors      
  • Product returns
  • Customer complaints
  • Violations
  • Safety accidents
  • Failure to comply with laws and policies
  • Breakdown and downtime
  • And many others.


One of the challenges in elearning is making very generic and static content useful and meaningful to the learner. We engage learners by transforming the content from abstract to concrete through the use of real-life fiascos and blunders.


Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne. How to Increase Higher Level Thinking. The Center for Development and Learning, Dec. 7, 2009. 

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Friday, February 10, 2017

It’s Really That Simple - Steps in Story Learning Design - Try the Live Exercise - Tip #120

Do you want to know how simple it is to apply the step-by-step process for creating a Story-Based Lesson? Fear not. There is actually a logic to the process, even if the outcome can be emotional and provocative.

Play this interactive exercise on “Stash the Cash” - a Fraud Detection Story-Based Design.
There are four steps to the process.

  • The Set Up is a Story-Based Learning Objective; unlike the static and linear learning objectives, we help learners to immediately recognize the value of these new approach to creating objectives and the lessons to be learned.
  • Getting learners to look forward to the lesson (State of Readiness) and giving them a peek of what lies ahead (objectives, goal-setting)
  • Show a challenging scene from the story
  • Ask Story Questions to bring the learners to the why and what would happen (possible consequences).

Learners are now jumping into the water, getting deeply immersed. Here they learn to find their place (Context). As we learned in the previous chapter, the Autobiographical Memory begins to make a connection with the learning.

Story Question Guide:
  • Use experiential questions
"Have you ever sat in one place in the same position for hours on end? How did you feel then?"


The learners are now in possession of knowledge which, coupled with their experiences can propel them faster, harder and closer to the Finish Line. Here, we bridge gaps in rapid succession, zip into new evaluations and strengthen connections. Almost there!

This is an example of an  “Interpret” question:
  • Use "what if...?" questions
"You're planning to relax at home and it's the weekend. What if you were told that you must sit close to your TV with your back hunched and your arms crooked in front of you for 8 hours?


This is it. The home stretch. Just the learner, the road and the finish line somewhere in the distance. Just a few short sprints and voila! Success!

Story Question Guide:
  • Use questions in the form of scenarios and allow learners to explore different options
"You notice your employees work while slumped over their keyboards. This causes lethargy and an overall environment of sluggishness. Later in the day, they complain of backaches and pains. What is your recommendation and how will you make things better?"
  • Use questions that tie into existing realities.

By using the Vignettes Learning method of SRIA (Set up, Relate, Interpret and Apply) it is highly likely that you build your confidence and develop the skills in applying the Story-Based Learning Design…


Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

3 Story Lesson Starters That Never Fail - Tip #119

Every day we tell and hear stories about ourselves, about people we love (or don’t love), and about many other things in our world. Why do some stories stick to our minds while others are like wisps of mist that touch us ephemerally? Is it the ending, the beginning or what happens in between that matters most?

An unpredictable ending keeps us hanging in suspense but the beginning can push us or pull us away from the story. How then should we begin our story? Here are some helpful tips.

1. Provoke the Curiosity of Learners

Ignite learners’ interest by provoking their curiosity. We are drawn to things or events that are mysterious or out of our ordinary life. Present an unusual situation and ask them questions such as: “What would you do?” “Do you have any idea why?”

Here are a couple of examples I actually used in my lessons:

In “Hangover Joe,” I stirred learners’ interest by posing the following questions at the beginning of the lesson:
In "Laptop Horror Story," I asked learners:

2. Encourage Learners to Think Critically By Presenting a Conflict or Problem

Challenging learners to resolve a conflict or problem will activate their minds to critically analyze the situation and offer solutions. They will be enthusiastic to listen to the story to find out if they are right. Examples of conflicting or problematic situations are:
This is the first slide of a lesson on Kitchen Safety. What makes this scenario problematic? What consequences do you think will arise because of this?

This example deals with Toxic Waste Drum Labeling. What potential problems does this situation pose?

3. Use Descriptive Words That Enable Learners to Create a Picture in Their Minds

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Words can transport us to another realm. They can stir our imagination to see the vibrant colors of the fields, feel the coolness of running water, smell the cobwebs, or hear the whisper of the leaves. Examples are:
Watch demo here.
Watch demo here.

How do these illustrations make you feel? What does the illustration make you think about? Have you thought about your own or others' experiences? Would learners be able to put themselves in the shoes of a bank employee or HR staff?


A story that activates the mind, heart and imagination at the very beginning will mesmerize learners until the end. We live and relive these experiences for many good years.


Freeman, Suzannah Windsor. 6 Ways to Hook Your Readers from the Very First LineWrite It Sideways, January 20, 2010

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Content That Lives Within a Story Lasts Forever - Tip #118

Stories can touch our whole being—our thoughts, imagination, emotions, and spirit. Emotionally gripping stories have a way of sticking to our memories for a long, long time. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that people remember stories “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”

Read: Weaving Stories and Factual Content for Seamless Lessons

While a story per se is a powerful instructional tool, its power to move the listener emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally largely depends on how the storyteller narrates it. The following tips are helpful.

1. Choose details that reflect your listeners’ emotions and experiences

Excite the emotions of the listeners, whether this be love, anger or grief. Why are children obsessed with the movie “Frozen”? It’s the intense emotional impact. “The message that ‘Frozen’ sends about love, and love being such a strong kind of "conquering all" message resonates with all ages,” said Amy Susman-Stillman, a mother of three and co-director of the Center for Early Education and Development at the University of Minnesota.

Show a story that has relevance to your listeners. What specific concepts do you want to drive home? Are your listeners factory workers, organizational leaders, health personnel or government employees? Contextualizing the story makes it more meaningful.

2. Hook your listeners

Start your elearning lessons or online session with a story to grab your listeners' attention. Ask them questions, even if these are hypothetical ones.

Examples would be:
  • What would you do to get that promotion?
  • What if you consistently didn’t reach your sales quota?
  • What would you do to improve your production?

3. Activate as many senses as possible

Our brains “work better when more than one sensory channel is activated by incoming stimuli” (Tom Reamy, 2002). Let your story come alive and awaken learners’ imagination so that they can feel, smell, taste, and hear the things around them as if they are the characters themselves. Digital media can capture the richness of stories but don’t forget that your voice, words, eyes, and actions are all integral elements that can make the story fascinating and understandable.

4. Invite learners to interact and share

Encourage learners to offer solutions to the problem. Provoke critical thinking by asking questions such as: 
  • How will you resolve the conflict between characters A and B?
  • Which part of the story affects you most? Why?
  • Which character do you admire most? Why?


Because we see ourselves in the characters of stories, we get emotionally and intellectually involved in the events and the knowledge that the story intends to transmit persists in our memories forever.


Brown, Heather. Good Question: Why Are Our Kids Obsessed With ‘Frozen’? CBS Minnesota, May 20, 2014
Reamy, Tom. Imparting knowledge through storytelling, Part 2. KMWorld, July/Aug 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 7]

Related Tips

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Story Arguments that Compel Learners to Pay Attention - Tip #117

Learning is like watching someone else’s story.

Observe what happens when you listen to a story from your parents, spouse or loved one, kids, bosses, or even a homeless person on the street. Did you notice how there’s always an argument that pops up in your mind? This happens instantly, automatically, and unconsciously.

Arguments and Persuasion
I remember my kids’ book when they were in high school titled “Everything’s an Argument” by Andrea Lunsford, John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. It’s basically a manual on how to analyze and create arguments.

Why do we need to learn how to argue? It has everything to do with persuasion.

Philosophy and logic defines an argument as “a series of statements typically used to persuade someone of something or to present reasons for accepting a conclusion.”

This is the flow of terminology in arguments.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Farcaster

There are two sides to every argument. The formal side is the thinking process. The more subtle but powerful side is the emotional aspect. These two elements—logic and emotion—make for perfect persuasion.

The strongest forms of arguments are those that are represented by people with their points of view—the emotional points of view. Although an argument is a formalistic process, it is driven by its emotional context because its emotional appeal (or pathos) aligns with and therefore appeals to the needs, values and emotions of the audience.

In their book “Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character” Christopher Vogler and David McKenna say a strong story always has two people with opposing points of view, each one trying to persuade the other. These points of view may be represented by objects, as in the whale in Moby Dick, or the one ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” We even use people like Miss Piggy or Oscar the Grouch.
5 Story Arguments
Here are five story arguments that always help me start a story (there are many more, but these are most compelling to me):
  1. Deprivation versus abundance
  2. Injustice versus fairness
  3. Love or hate
  4. Reward or punishment
  5. Agony or ecstasy

Let's drill down and see how we can use these to engage learners.

1. Deprivation vs. Abundance

Sudden deprivation from abundance is a scary prospect. What happens if you lose your job, work days are reduced, or you can’t walk due to an accident at work, etc.?

Let’s look at this example:

Ben: "I'm very happy where I am now - good pay and my boss treats me well - so I don't have to sweat it."

Kelly: “Have you heard about a buyout of our company? The rumor is that our stocks have plummeted; that our management team will lose their jobs.”

Reflective question (I always ask these questions to allow the learner to be drawn into the argument): Ben's your close friend. What would you tell him?

2. Injustice vs. Fairness

Can you imagine if your company suddenly changed its performance evaluation practices? How would you feel?

Violence at work can be triggered by sudden changes in how workers are treated. If these changes cause alarm and workers begin to think the organization is no longer loyal to them, or if these changes are applied inappropriately, then this can result in a more aggressive workplace. Aggression is a manifestation of workers’ frustration, stress and emotional disturbances. If you dig deeper, this will lead you to the root cause: their perception of injustice.

Here’s another example:

Rebecca: “Why, I should call in sick! After all that is why it’s there. I can have fun with my kids at Disneyland.”

Reflective question: “What happened to the sense of duty and decency?”

There are always protectors of fairness and violators of justice. Perhaps, that’s why wars are hard to end, but seem easy to start. Just imagine road rage or someone cutting the line in the supermarket.

3. Love or Hate

Have you read this very touching story of a mother’s sacrifice? The son hates his mother so much, but in the end, he realizes she loved him so much and she didn’t deserve his hatred, but rather his love.

In stories of people around us, love or hate can be so powerful. Just listen to their conversations: “I love that or I hate that.” The more penetrating ones are those of love that is willing to sacrifice or hate that offers forgiveness.

Lessons that start with forgiveness and sacrifice move people. They move learners. Why? Because we all know how hard it is to sacrifice and forgive.

Take this example:

Becky: “I continue to work long hours and double shifts. My daughter is in college.”

Reflective question: “What drives Becky?”

4. Reward or Punishment

We all seek rewards. We want to be respected, recognized and valued for our contribution to the group. Rewards give us a sense of achievement. On the other hand, withholding rewards or even worse, ignoring a well-earned reward causes contempt and unhappiness.

Lessons that start with this incident raise the argument within the learner.

For instance:

Bert (the boss): “Hey John, great work! You did it.”

Maria (team member): “I lost sleep to make that report, and not even a thank you.”

Reflective question: “How could this moment be an opportunity to motivate others?”

5. Agony or Ecstasy
In the corporate ladder, everyone is in the race to climb to the top. Promotions are seen as ultimate prizes for the winner. But someone aiming to get promoted knows how agonizing the climb can be, as evident in the example above.

Here’s another example.

Karen: “I’m really ecstatic that I got the promotion!”

Nick: “Yeah, but you’ll be working longer hours, too.”

Reflective question: How can feelings of ecstasy and agony be utilized to motivate learners?


Learning is listening to stories of other people and sharing our own stories. It is about the blending of the mind and emotions. It is about making the dualistic nature of things—deprivation and abundance, injustice and fairness, love and hate, reward and punishment, agony and ecstasy—an opportunity to learn.


Wikipedia. “Argument”
White, Robert F., "Workplace violence: A case study" (2002). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. Paper 522.
Jai, USA. “Mother’s sacrifice”

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"