Thursday, April 21, 2016

Adding Provocative Stories to Really Boring eLearning - Tip #95

Do you find it arduous and very challenging to identify stories that produce engaging content?

Have you heard the saying, “the answer is just under your nose?" Believe me, stories abound.

Abundance of Facts, Scarcity of Stories

Factual and data content are easy to find. They are abundantly spoonfed to us by SMEs (subject matter experts) or expert technical teams.  We are never short of data. There is an abundance of these. Remember the slide decks that our SMEs provided us? (Phew!). Unfortunately, many designers and writers find it gruelling to pinpoint thought-provoking stories to accompany the data or factual content. They say “they are scarce.” Not at all! The answer is really right under our noses.

Where do data and fact originate?

Data does not come from thin air. It does not come from computers churning them out into great infographics. I once saw this placard from a science lab:

Most content, if not all, come from events in our lives - nature, laboratories, situations - in or from living things. So any form of data, information or statistics reflect what is happening or what we observed in our environments.

I also call these organic items.

One might also argue that content is the form while stories are their substance.
Taking a closer look at your factual or data content, you’d be pleasantly surprised to find stories which are built-in or inseparable elements of said content. Stories are native and innate in the content.

How to Extract the Stories

To extricate the stories, we need to use “extraction tools” or “refining tools.” The tools are called Story Questions.

From the data on hand, you may derive real-life events, situations, narratives, stories, characters, emotions, conflicts, resolutions, anecdotes - the elements of the story.

  • Statistical anomalies: “What’s the cause of the anomalies? What brought about the incidents? What is the impact, negatively or positively? How is the anomaly easily described?

  • Deviations from targets: “What drove the deviations? Who and how was this received? How are people adjusting the strategies or actions to address deviations?

  • Disconnect in assumptions: “What are the differences in assumptions and their origins? What are the sentiments and feelings about the differences? How are these likely resolved and what happens if they are unresolved?

  • Fatal flaws: “What is the accident or error? What are the consequences? What was missed or omitted? What costs or benefits were derived?

  • Exemplar results: “Why was this unexpected? How was this inspiring others? What was the contrasting, below-par results and what was the value realized? Who benefited?

Go Beyond the Numbers

I learned this thought from a Harvard professor:


Remove the Sting of Compliance Courses: Make Them Short, Succinct, Easy to Learn

Provoking Learners with Story Questions

Employing Story Structure and Dynamics to Engage Different Learners

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


  1. I agree wholeheartedly, stories are absolutely fantastic! Not only do they engage the learner, but force him to actually think on his or her own. Also, they tend to be simply enjoyable.

    1. John, Thanks.

      I spoke once to an eLearning developer and she said - "not only does learning with stories make my learners engaged, it makes my work much more fun." I thought this is a good by product for most of us who design and develop learning.



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