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Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

by Paula Jayne White, Ph.D.

A few months ago, I received a video featuring a fictional conversation between Philadelphia Phillies greats Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth.  Unlike most joke emails, this one made me stop and watch, despite my normal instinct to skip or delete.  (Because of strong language, I don’t include the clip here, but interested adults can easily find it on YouTube.) 

I knew instantly that I was hooked.  The more videos like this that I found – with their lego-like characters and flat computer voices—the more I wanted to watch—no matter the content.  This one, for example, gives new meaning to the concept of the home makeover show:

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/4851011/

Even insurance giant Geico uses them in their ads:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3vTNJ7Ym6Y

The text-to-video technology enabling these videos, created by xtranormal.com, is simple—“if you know how to type, you can make movies!”  Intriguing and fun, but not really a learning tool, right? 

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

So what’s the goal of this story?

Okay, so there’s a question you don’t often get when discussing novels or plays. What’s the goal? Well, the goal is to get to the last page of the book, or the curtain call at the end of the play. But when you’re writing stories for learning, the question takes on a different meaning. Not only are you telling a great story, you’re supposed to be helping your learner improve his or her performance.

Great learning stories include Goal-Based Scenarios. In simplest terms, the story includes a goal or a set of goals that need to be achieved; the point of going through the story is to achieve the goal. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the key: the nature of the goal impacts the way you perceive the story. Confused? Let’s break it down.

  1. First and foremost, the goal of learning is not just to make you smarter; the goal is to help you build the ability to do something. A Goal-Based Scenario begins to answer to eternal question of performance improvement: what am I going to be able to do as a result of this effort? Why is it important that I’m able to do this?
  2. In the business world, almost everything we do has a goal. Why should our business learning be any different? What kinds of problems can I solve with this knowledge?
  3. Ultimately, storytelling for learning works best when it presents real life conflicts. It can be pretty easy to regurgitate the “right” way to handle a problem, but can you really do it under pressure? You need to recreate that pressure for the learning to have emotional impact—and Goal-Based Scenarios do that. Rather than applying learning in a vacuum, you’re attempting to solve a real business problem—and actually having to apply what you’ve learned.

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Is there such a thing as too much reality?

In my first post on this topic, I said this:

“So how do you apply some of the rules of storytelling to our training initiatives? The key is to focus on how the world works in real life.”

The great thing about writing novels or screenplays is that you can make everything up. You’re not bound by the reality of what’s possible. But in a learning story, there needs to be some grounding in reality, however tenuous. In my simulation work, we often get hung up on reality. Does the simulation environment need to be a carbon copy of the real world? Arguably, the answer is no; one of the reasons we don’t always learn effectively is because our environments are full of distracters; your learning story can focus people on what’s important. But aren’t those distracters part of the learning experience? If you give me a nice clean environment to learn in, won’t I just have difficulty applying it in real life?

So how real do you need to get? The answer is, it depends. And not in a philosophical way. The real question is, what are the variables that need to be considered to tell the story effectively?

The most recognizable kind of simulation is probably the flight simulator. The failure to fly a plane properly will likely lead to mechanical failure, damage, and death. There are so many factors that can lead to failure (gauges, mechanics, alertness, weather, etc,) that flight simulators need to be completely realistic. The adherence to reality in a flight simulator is remarkable.

But in many environments, we want learners to focus on specific items. Where, in fact, presenting the whole reality of the job might actually be confusing. So it’s generally okay to leave stuff out or consolidate stuff. How do you that? Well, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but here are some guidelines:

1. Make sure you the stuff you leave out won’t distract the learner.

For example, if the learner works on a team where all of the members are in different cities, they might be distracted by a story that involves a scenario where everybody is co-located; however, they might be fine with a story where some team members are co-located and some are distributed.

I worked on a customer service simulation design with a company that made many different types of paper and packaging products. The client was very concerned that no one scenario (food packaging, office paper, print stock, etc.) would resonate with every member of the audience. Ultimately, we made the decision that the company in the simulation made bottles instead of paper. This way, the manufacturing and customer service environment was very recognizable to learners, but they weren’t distracted by the fact that the company didn’t make their exact paper product.

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Stories are compelling when you think you know what’s going to happen next, and then the story throws in a twist. You can do the same thing in you learning stories; the only issue is that you need some grounding in reality.

Movies frequently build interest by inserting compelling story twists. I won’t include any spoilers, but most people will admit to being thrown for a loop when they learned the truth about Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense or who Keyser Soze really was in The Usual Suspects. But the technique is nothing new; Alfred Hitchock shocked the movie-going world in 1960 when he killed off the main character in Psycho ten minutes into the film.

One of the oddest twists is in the film Magnolia; the story takes a twist when it unexpectedly starts raining frogs. And perhaps that’s the key difference between movie storytelling and learning storytelling. If your story completes deviates from reality, you’ll probably lose your audience. So your story probably shouldn’t have any froggy precipitation.

For learning stories, I recommend the use of the “Predictable Unexpected.” (more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

 

In the first post in this series, I provided an overview for integrating storytelling into learning; now, in the spirit of translating all complex ideas into a few bullet points, I wanted to provide some tips.  These tips come from my simulation design experience, but really, they apply to most learning opportunities. While storytelling is more art than science, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  1. Engage the heart as well as the mind. The workplace is emotional, so don’t be afraid to get under people’s skin. People should feel elated when they succeed, uncomfortable when they fail.
  2. Focus on what makes the job challenging. Is it the complexity of the product line? The demands of your boss? The intimidation factor of talking to a well-educated physician? Don’t shy away from the tough stuff.
  3. Show, don’t tell. This is one of the oldest writer’s rules. Instead of writing “he was nervous,” show your character’s behavior, and let your user/reader conclude that he’s nervous.
  4. Storytelling needn’t involve narrative. While a novelist employs narrative as her primary tool, the simulation designer has many more tools available. Computer users can only tolerate reading in small doses. Tell your story with video, audio, graphics and animation.
  5. Don’t feel you have to tell the entire story of a job in a simulation. Simulation stories work best when they are focused just on those parts of the job that are complex or difficult. In designing a sales simulation for a large pharmaceutical customer, we determined that reps did well at product detailing, but had opportunities for improvement in opening and closing calls. We designed a simulation that incorporated the entire call, but focused decisions specifically on openings and closings. (more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Storytelling is one of the most effective yet underused methods for enhancing adult learning.  Ever heard someone yell at characters on a movie screen or talk back to the television? Ever stay up way too late one night because you had to read just one more chapter of a best seller? Ever rearrange your schedule to make sure you’re home for the conclusion of the cliffhanger episode of your favorite TV series?

Odds are good that you answered “yes” to at least one of the questions above, and very possibly to all of them. It’s not surprising. For many cultures, storytelling is one of the most pervasive methods of sharing information. A good story speaks to our minds, our hearts, our deepest emotions. When we’re truly wrapped up in a great story, we sometimes do things that are irrational; we speak to characters we know are fictional, we give up sleep that we desperately need, we laugh or cry or rejoice or despair over the lives of people we know are completely made up, completely fabricated. We’re human beings; we are able to connect on many levels.

We hate to admit it, but the workplace is irrationally emotional as well. On a good workday, we can feel fear, anger, joy, despair and elation. But for some reason, when we train people to be effective in this environment, our approach too often becomes dry and bloodless. We engage the mind (if we’re lucky), but not the heart. As a result, we reduce the likelihood that we will gain learner attention, that our message will be heard, let alone retained and applied.

I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career working on performance simulations. The word “simulation” means many different things to different people. But at its core, simulations provide a realistic environment for learners to try new behaviors and experience the likely outcomes. And this is where storytelling becomes critical. If I’m going to truly apply new behaviors, I need to feel the same pressures, trade-offs, and barriers to change that I will feel in the real world. If those aspects are not present, I’m likely to dismiss the whole enterprise as “just another training exercise.” There are good simulations and bad simulations (and really bad simulations that don’t simulate anything). Some interpret simulation as a complex multiple choice test, which isn’t even close. Ultimately, what raises a mediocre simulation to a great simulation is the ability of the designers to engage the learner with a compelling story.

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by Jean Marie Tenlen

I have been thinking about an essay I read that I had originally heard about on NPR called “The Internet is Killing Storytelling” by Ben Macintyre. The essay was referenced by Tina Brown, who runs a news aggregate site called The Daily Beast. The essay argues that with the advent of the internet, we are losing the ability to attend to and create narratives. Macintyre  argues that the internet is creating a reader who is only able to attend to a rapid and truncated style of communication – the ultra- soundbites of instant messages, Twitter, etc. Macintyre has a good turn of phrase, stating, “The internet has evolved a new species of ma gpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing.”  I liked this metaphor because the process by which I found this essay was evocative of a person finding and passing along shiny bits: written by Ben, found by Tina, discussed by Steve Inskeep, and now I am handing it off to anyone who reads this essay.

“But stories demand time and concentration; the narrative does not simply transmit information, but invites the reader or listener to witness the unfolding of events,” says Ben. I think Ben is a little reactionary. I am guessing folks have been bemoaning the audience’s ability to attend to narrative every time a new form of storytelling emerges. I can imagine bards concernedly talking about the lack of their audience’s ability to attend to their song-stories with the advent of print, and the theatrical folk worrying about the infringement of movies, and the movie folks worrying about TV sit-coms, and so on.

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