Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Story Metaphors to Lift Your Learners’ Spirits - Tip #116

I wrote this while starting this blog.

Metaphors are poems. They speak to a part of us that we often leave barren and hidden from the light. Metaphors reach us and our souls. They hit us deep and we swallow, stay quiet and feel that side of us that shines and sparkles, when the right combination of words is so well chosen they touch us.

Lessons using stories do not have to be negative. You can uplift learners by “teleporting” or “transporting” or “delving” into that part in them that is touched by a song, lyrics, or rhyme that reminds them of their humanity.

“There's just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body,” says Joanne Loewy, director of the Armstrong center and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine. So many songs contain metaphors and as we listen images come into our minds.
1. Anticipating joy

When most people say “I could jump for joy!” they’re not actually jumping. People use this metaphor when they’re very happy and everything is going their way.

For instance:
Jack: I could jump for joy right now. My boss just gave me a promotion. Wohoo!

Reflective question: What can make you jump for joy? How do you respond to someone who is jumping for joy?
2. A flight to somewhere
When workers have a challenge or problem they need to solve, they go on a journey or quest. It’s like climbing a mountain. The solution is the summit; it is every learner’s goal. On this journey, learners may need guides (company leaders), climbing partners (different departments to support them), or a map (training and development).

SMEs also go on their own journey or quest in developing and delivering content. In micro-learning, SMEs must go through the jungle of content and take only what learners need. It’s not an easy task because they may be tempted to take all they think are important for the learners. But they must stick to taking only what the learners need; otherwise, the learners drown from too much content.

Reflective question: What other challenges hinder SMEs and learners from achieving their goals?

3. A discovery within

When learners discover a new insight, it’s like switching a light bulb. This is what we call the “Aha!” moment. This is the precise moment when learners make the connection between two previously unrelated concepts. There are really no new ideas but only new connections of existing facts or notions, according to David Jones.

Reflective question: What two unrelated concepts have you connected recently to come up with with a new idea or insight?

4. Connecting with another

Throughout our lifetime, we establish many relationships with other people. There are many metaphors about relationships but these two appeal to me the most: a relationship is both an investment and a journey.

A relationship is an investment in cases when couples deposit into a joint account. These deposits are “assets of affection.” Difficult times may lead couples to withdraw from this account. The focus here is on reaping mutual benefits.

On the other hand, a relationship as a journey emphasizes the process. It’s the trip that matters. New discoveries can lead to changes in paths or destination.

Reflective question: What do you compare your connections or relationships to?

5. Profound beauty of nature

Training and development is like planting flowers or gardening. SMEs plant a small seed (lessons, truth, wisdom) and nurture it. They give it water and sunlight so that the seed becomes a plant and blooms.

Comparing learning to planting flowers or gardening implies the importance and need for time. Growing things take time. Gardeners and farmers know growth cannot be rushed; they wait for the right season for their plants to bear fruit.

Reflective question: It’s the same with learners. We need to continually nourish them to help them grow.

6. Overcome, conquer

In business organizations, people say one is “climbing the corporate ladder” to mean they are going up the ranks of the organization. It's likewise implied that someone climbing the corporate ladder is doing so alone. But what if others try to climb the same ladder with you?

Another metaphor used to describe career growth or progress is “career path.” This comparison emphasizes choice. Paths can go one way or the other and there are forks along the way. This implies that learners need to make a decision about which way they want to go, so there’s really no right or wrong way. You choose your destination and what you think is the right path to reach it.

Reflective question: Which metaphor do you relate with?

7. Falling in love
Love has given birth to many metaphors. Some of them include: “love is a many splendored thing” and “love is a disease.”

This line from Celine Dion’s song “My Heart Will Go On” is especially poignant. It tells of a very special love that lasts a lifetime. Have you experienced this?

Reflective question: Remember a time when you fell in love? Use a metaphor to describe how you felt.

8. Peace and quiet

I think of peace as a fragile dove. Some think of peace as calm weather, a gentle breeze or still watersWhat comes to mind when you think of peace?

Reflective question: What’s the one thing you do to bring peace inside you?

9. Surprise

She was beside herself with surprise and just stood there speechless.

Surprise is a pause button that “makes us stop what we’re doing, hijacks our attention, and forces us to pay attention.”

Reflective question: What can you tell learners to bring surprise and splendor?

10. Prayer and communicating with thyself
There are many metaphors used in describing prayer, the most common of which is that prayer is a phone call to God.

The passage above, from poet Czeslaw Milosz, likens prayer to a velvet bridge. How would you feel crossing a velvet bridge?


Metaphors make it easier for us to grasp the meaning of stories. They have the power to stir our emotions and to engage us in whatever we do.

Can you remember a metaphor or two that really stirred your emotions? Do you have metaphors that you want to share?


Amy Novotney. “Music as medicine”. American Psychological Association: Nov. 2013, Vol 44, No. 10, p. 46

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. “Metaphors We Live By”. University Of Chicago Press; 1st edition (April 15, 2003)

Tania Luna. “Surprise”. Psychology Today. March 26, 2015

Lisa Hickman. “Call Me, Maybe? 9 Images for Prayer Beyond a Phone Call”. The Huffington Post, Updated Sept. 29, 2012.

Tip #72 - Creative Musing

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

1 comment:

  1. Metaphors can be very effective, but only if you share a cultural background with your audience. I once told a person from a foreign country it was important that he do a repetitive task himself because 'if you give a man a fish he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime'. At the end of the module, I asked for questions and he responded that he understood how to do the task, but was confused about how learning how to fish related to the topic! I realized the question in his mind actually distracted him from the topic ... and have been very careful about using metaphors ever since. Also, I find that metaphors in discussions often derail the conversation into discussing the validity of the metaphor instead of the topic. So use metaphor/simile if you think it will help, but use with care; sometimes plain speaking is a better option.


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