Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to instantly grab e-learners attention!

To instantly grab e-Learners, remember embedding content into stories.

Embedding Steps

  1. Relate
  2. Interpret
  3. Apply

Which statement grabs you instantly? Life is full of trials and tribulations or I started work at 3:00 am and finished at 11:00 pm, exhausted. The fist statement is a technical content, whereas, the second statement is a story.

Many experts agree that in e-Learning, storytelling is a good approach to instantly grab learners and help them relate the content to real life situations, hence, helping them to retain and apply the content. Thus stories carry with them the emotional aspects of learning. 

Emotions as integral to learning  

According to Rosenfield (1988), emotions have important connection to memory; Caine and Caine (1991): stories add and help in storing information, thus triggering its recall.

"The emotional depth and range that learners have affected their actual capacity to grasp ideas and procedures. Similarly, content that is emotionally sterile is made more difficult to understand. ... To teach someone any subject adequately, the subject must be embedded in all the elements that give its meaning. People must have a way to relate to the subject in terms of what is personally important, and this means acknowledging both the emotional impact and their deeply held needs and drives. Our emotions are integral to learning. When we ignore the emotional components of any subject we teach, we actually deprive learners of meaningfulness." 

Stories and storytelling as carry learning ideas 

Furthermore, stories and storytelling are the carriers of emotional content. Stories, which I call organics, have different forms: narrative stories, anecdote, example, metaphor, demo, illustration, and other forms that bring the emotional and real-life aspects of content.  
Two types of content

There are two types of content: technical which are factual, objective, mechanical content and the emotional which are real-life situations, personal context and understanding of the content. The technical and emotional content work hand in hand. However, we discover that in designing e-Learning pages, there is even a greater need to magnify the emotional side. There is practical reason to this. In classroom or facilitated sessions, the good instructor or facilitator can successfully relate the technical and emotional content. Unfortunately, in e-Learning, the facilitator and stories are absent and we oftentimes find the lessons to consist more of technical or mechanical content. Something is lost in the conversion. The emotional content is “lost in the translation”.

Embedding content into stories

Embedding content into stories is the technique of relating mechanical content into engaging stories. The technique is valuable when you wish to instantly grab and engage your learners. Essentially there are three steps. 

Embedding Steps

  1. Relate
  2. Interpret
  3. Apply
    Relate the technical content to real-life situations

    Relate refers to adding meaning to new mechanical content by presenting or translating them into emotional and real-life experience. The experience might be events, people and conversations. Furthermore, it is not sufficient to relate real-life situations. The real-life situation must have emotional aspects to them. To relate the technical content to real-life meaning involves one or more of these methods:

    • Citing unresolved problems – helps learners to focus on specific, meaningful and real-life conditions. Example: “John lost his left eye due to a furnace blast. He used the wrong protective goggles.”

    • Using familiar and personal experience – helps learners to understand the content by finding a relevant meaning in their personal lives. Example: “When was the last time you had to work 24 hours to meet a timeline?”

    • Using visualization and emotional experiences – helps learners imagine and picture in their minds and capture the emotions of the content through a story, metaphor, examples, illustrations and other organic methods. Example: “He touched my shoulders, leaned on me, whisper in my ears and sad ‘you smell great’”, she sobbed while telling her story to the lawyers.”

      Brainstorming questions:

      What is the mechanical and technical content? What is a real-life problem situation that depicts the content? What can learners easily relate to? What familiar events are familiar to the learners? What stories and other form of organics help the learners visualize and feel the emotions of the real-life situation? 
      Ask learners to interpret the story

      While the learner is relating the story, it helps the learners when they are asked to interpret the story. Interpretation is a mental process that allows the learners to connect the story and the content in their own lives and their own create their meanings. The story and the content becomes part of learners’ experience. And therefore helps the learner to personalize and own the story and content. This is similar to the learner discovering the answers for themselves. To help the learners’ interpret the story and content, one or more of these methods would work: 

      • Asking the learner to respond – this helps the learners move from an observer to a participant in the story. Example: “If you are Pearl, what would you do?”

      • Bring the learner into the story – this helps the learners become a character in the story. Example: “To stop this accident recurring, what would you do as a safety officer?”

      • Ask the leaner to resolve the problem – this helps the learners to actively offer their personal solutions to the problem. Example: “How would you resolve Nancy’s dilemma?”

        Brainstorming questions:

        How do you invite the learner to respond? How can the leaner become a character in the story? What and how do you ask the learner to resolve the problem?

      Ask the learner to apply in their own real-life situations

      To further engage the learner and strengthen the learning process, ask the learners to apply their understanding of the story and content in their own lives. This process is either a thinking or an action process. By applying the solution to a problem or the learning discovery into their real-lives, the learners satisfy themselves that indeed they discovered the meaning of the story and content. If not, learners will go back to interpret the story and will try to understand it further. Applying the ideas helps in retention of the knowledge, but even more important is the immediate usefulness of the ideas. The usefulness of the discovery helps learners recognize the immediate value of the content in their own lives. To help the learners’ apply the story and content, one or more of these methods would work:

      • Reflecting on the application – this helps the learners reflect on how they can apply the solution in their own lives. Example: “Why is this case useful to you?”

      • Applying in a personal case – this helps the learners apply the solution in a very specific personal case. Example: “Select a situation at work that you can apply your solution?”

      • Responding to a similar story – this helps the learners apply the solution in another related or similar story. Example: “In the related story where John and Martha had the same disagreement, but John, in this case, terminated Martha, how would you apply the ideas that you learned?”

      • Applying in off-line activity – this helps the learners extend the learning into a specific work project. Example: “Go off-line and have a conversation with your boss. Ask him: ‘How would handle this situation?’”

        Brainstorming questions:

        How do you ask the learner to apply the story, content and solution in their personal lives? What is a related story that you can ask learners to apply the content and solution? 
        Now, let’s look at some examples.

        Example 1 - Sales Training

        The technical content

        To close a sale you need to know what the customer needs. Understanding the customer needs helps you offer the right product or solution. The more you know the customer’s need, the more you close the sale. The story Would you buy from a salesperson if he does not know what you need? What’s the worst thing that can happen? How would knowing the need of the customer help you close more sales? Reflect for a moment. Which content helps you immediately relate to real-life situation?

        Example 2 - Cashier Training 
        The technical content
        Scan each product correctly to get an accurate record of the sale and update the inventory. A mistake is very costly for the company because of excess inventory and wrong forecasting in production.  

        The story The delivery driver complains – “I just delivered 100 cases of product X, but you still have 100 cases available, on-hand? Why did you over-order?” 

        What likely happened in this situation? What would you do to avoid the problem? Reflect for a moment. Which content helps you to immediately relate to real-life situation?

        Example 3 - Leadership Training 

        The technical content 

        An effective leader has integrity and can be trusted. The leader who is trustworthy builds a bond with his team members.

        The story 

        How do you feel a leader whom you can not confide your personal concerns?
        For team members to confide in the leader, what must the leader possess? How do you build integrity and become trustworthy?
        Reflect for a moment. Which content helps you to immediately relate to real-life situation?
        In the above examples, we used the common patterns for questions?
        Questions are basic technique of engaging the learners. 

        Example 4 - Leadership Training (A Story)

        The technical content 

        An effective leader has integrity and can be trusted. The leader who is trustworthy builds a bond with his team members.

        The story

        It has been rumored that Dana was fired because Peter, her boss, reported to HR and legal that Dana had misused her company credit card. “I trusted Peter and I was asking for his advice”, Dana said. Dana was cleared of the allegations and kept her job. What do you think happened in this case? What happened to the trust between Dana and Peter? If you are Peter, why is it important to preserve the trust between you and Dana and how would you go about preserving this trust?


        To instantly grab e-Learners, remember embedding content into stories. Embedding Steps
        1. Relate
        2. Interpret
        3. Apply

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

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