Tuesday, March 22, 2016

3 Story Sources for Deeper Learning - Tip #91

Have you noticed in your learning sessions that learners tend to tell their own stories and sometimes it is hard to stop them?

Some trainers think of this as wasting time and yet learners telling their stories is one of the best ways they learn. 

How do we insert content inside or within learners’ stories?

In the world of learning and training, it is often the case that content is thought of as a body of logical knowledge or factual information. The focus is on production and delivery of knowledge and content. The consequences are programs that are heavy on content dump and bore learners. Stories help learners add meaning to the content and therefore make them useful, relevant, and valuable. The challenge is how to bring the natural and organic part of the content to help learners understand its real-life meaning.

Story types to help add natural and real-life meaning to content

These are three story types that you can use in face-to-face sessions, webinars, or eLearning design.

Stories on the “improbables”

Why do people tend to be attracted to fascinating stories about personal struggles and achieving success like climbing Mount Everest, winning Jeopardy, playing a game, and others? Why are we engrossed with best practices, turnaround stories, and successes against all odds?

One insight I discovered refers to what Ray Williams says about the wandering mind. According to Williams, our minds wander and travel around and sometimes we seem to be sidetracked from our tasks. He contends this juggling is actually our brain’s way of allowing for more space for other things that “distract” us.  Williams notes that “the mind goes on a flight” and looks for “what ifs” and we tend to be attracted to pursue these questions. In this mode, we seek out the “improbables”. We wonder why, how, and if we can do them. So we role play in our minds how we can carry them out. Sometimes this seems like daydreaming. However, this might be related and adds value to blue-sky thinking, a term used in business brainstorming.

Stories on emergencies

When people are in an emergency, their minds are most active. In some cases, they tend to interact more with the source of the news or the eyewitnesses of the emergency. This is opposite to the behavior of immediately wanting to warn family members. This tells us how people behave especially when they have the capability to interact using mobile phones. Liang Gao of Beijing Jiaotong University in China, in a study featured in MIT Technology Review, says:
The interaction with the source or witness of an emergency perhaps is an opportunity for our learners to be a “newscaster.” As such, they learn by reporting an emergency or a critical incident. Newscasting tasks require learners to be researchers, thinkers, evaluators, and story reporters.

Stories on deep reflections
Have you seen Interstellar? I am excited about an upcoming event I am attending on April 19, 2016. Caltech.edu will be sponsoring a dinner for Kip Thorne, the scientist who is the consultant to Interstellar. I am curious about his role in the movie and want to learn his insights.

At a dinner last year, I had a conversation with another Caltech professor about the ending of Interstellar. The movie is about different dimensions of space that people must pass through as they  travel billions of miles across the galactic horizon. So, I asked the professor, “How did Kip Thorne arrive at a way to communicate with the audience, the concept of multidimensional space?” He said, “It was so simple, such that, people realize it is a day-to-day phenomenon rather than a farfetched idea. That indeed it is happening now and here, rather than far away in space.”  That made me think a lot.

There are subjects that place learners in a deep state of reflection. Some are stories that ask questions where  answers do not come easily.

  • How will DNA technology affect what we learn of other people and our relationships?
  • How will voice recognition impact the work you do for customers?
  • Will you buy a Google driverless car?
  • Would you want to insert a risk-free micro-chip in your brain to boost your memory?
Stories help learners go through deeper learning by placing them in specific situations that make their minds wander about the “improbables,” make them act as newscasters, and guide them to reflect on deeper-impact questions. Each of these types of stories help learners assimilate your content better.  


Ray Williams. Is Mind Wandering a Good or Bad Thing? Ray Williams Associates. April 11, 2015

Emerging Technology from the arXiv. How Information Flows During Emergencies. MIT Technology Review. January 15, 2014

YouTube/Interstellar Movie. Interstellar Movie - Official Trailer 2. July 31, 2014

Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union. Friends Dinner & Centennial Gala Celebration Sponsored by the Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union Featuring Kip Thorne. April 19, 2016

Wikipedia. Kip Thorne. March 11, 2016

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

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