Using Storytelling for Learning

ipad-typewriterWe all love a story; it’s part of what we are as human beings. Although storytelling has been around for an age, stories are often not connected to learning activities. In fact, it’s been said that the original learning technologies were the story and the art of conversation.

In recent years, the art of storytelling has made resurgence as people realise the ability that storytelling has in connecting, engaging and informing us.

Storytelling is a powerful means of communication that is relevant across different cultures and communities. Stories have the ability to pull us into the storytellers’ journey, allowing us to bathe in their experiences and emotions.

When was the last time you couldn’t sleep at night because you couldn’t wait to read the next page of your company’s compliance training? Or you got goosebumps as the result of a particularly good training presentation about health and safety in the workplace? No…? We can’t remember the last time either. Research is showing that stories stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

When used in the right context, stories are amongst the simplest tools that learning and development experts can use to encapsulate a piece of learning. We feel so engaged when we hear or read a story that the areas of our brain we would use when actually experiencing the events in the story are activated (as opposed to only some areas of our brain if we were listening to a PowerPoint presentation).

As learning and development professionals, we are attuned to stories and at Aurion HQ; we love nothing better than sharing! As part of the storytelling revolution, we are developing a new online tool called Storee that will change the way we tell, create and share stories. Launching in beta soon, the tool will provide a platform for users to share their stories online.

So what makes a good story then?

  • Realism and structure,
  • Authentic connection to the content or storyteller,
  • Reusability,
  • Measurability,
  • Connection to the organisational narrative,
  • Surprise (cognitive dissonance),
  • Hope (open loops) and
  • Correct focus or length.

Old-fashioned typewriter that has just printed the text, "What's your story?"Less is more.

When we think of stories, it is very often the simplest stories that are the most successful and resonate with us the most. When it comes to writing and structuring stories, not all of us have the natural gift of the gab, or the penmanship of the great authors such as Dickens. However, it is important to note that many proclaimed authors use simple vocabulary and their way of expression is what makes their writing style simple.

A combination of simple language and low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. It is for similar reasons that multitasking is so hard for us. To increase the success of your storytelling, try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article. If you come to a “bigger” word, try to think of a simpler one that can replace it.

Three reasons for using stories in learning:

  1. People are inundated with information. We are bombarded with information every time we leave the house, go on the internet or switch on the television. We try to digest so much information that it feels as if there is simply no more space. However, the same individuals who don’t have the time to read a one-sided compliance document will happily set aside half an hour of their busy day to listen to an interesting story.
  2. People love both telling and listening to stories. From your elderly relatives who share stories from their childhoods, to the prehistoric artists who have etched stories of animal hunts and tales of survival onto cave walls right through to teenage girls gossiping about celebrities in the corner of the school canteen.
  3. Stories are not just another method of knowledge transfer but contain the reasoning for learning. Great storytelling makes the learner feel like a discoverer. When used in an appropriate context, a good story creates the motivation to complete learning.

Whilst the power of storytelling is highly recognised in the business and marketing fields, we are only beginning to tap into the potential of stories in the learning and development field. Whilst we have incorporated personal stories into some of our recent E-Learning projects, we are incredibly excited about the potential of using more storytelling in learning at Aurion; indeed the possibilities are endless!

In our next blog article we will provide advice and tips on using stories in E-Learning programmes.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates.

Knowledge Retention vs. Behavioural Change

Picture: Michael Cooper

Gavin Woods and representatives from the Sensory Engagement Programme

We were recently posed the question; “How can I use E-Learning as a way to create behavioural change and not just knowledge retention?”

As anyone who is involved in creating and implementing a learning strategy will know, there is often a gap between knowing and doing.

Regardless of the quality of the content, the delivery, or the rate of repetition, many learning and development professionals are faced with the challenge of turning knowledge into actions consistent with that knowledge.

‘When all is said and done, more is said than done’ (Aesop 7th century BC)

Earlier this year, the Sensory Engagement Programme (SEP) commissioned Aurion Learning to develop a new online training toolkit to raise awareness among service providers, in particular, banks, libraries and colleges of what it is like to be blind, partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing and using every day services.

The online resource comprises a series of short films demonstrating the personal experience of those with sensory loss using everyday services; exemplifying best practice to improve service provision and help make their services more inclusive.

Central to the success of the training resource is behaviour change. To meet the learning objectives of this project, we knew that the online resource had to make genuine and relevant connections with service providers.

In this blog, I’ve used SEP’s online training resource as an example of how E-Learning can be used to create behavioural change, not just knowledge retention.

At Aurion, we believe the key to creating behavioural change through E-Learning is to ensure participants:

 

  1. Understand,
  2. Memorise and
  3. Are motivated to take action

 

Understanding

The creation of great E-Learning hinges on the creator’s ability to identify knowledge gaps and find a way to present content clearly to the learner. A part of this process lies in the identification of functions that aren’t happening the way you would like them to. In the example of the SEP online toolkit, the best people to highlight these knowledge gaps were individuals who were blind, partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing as it demonstrated their personal experiences using everyday services, making it more authentic and pertinent.

Picture: Michael Cooper

Discussing the tangible benefits of the online training resource

Once these knowledge gaps have been identified, the challenge lies in finding the best format you can use to convey the information. Content delivery should never mean the regurgitation of large pieces of information and compliance documents but instead the delivery of small amounts of information in an accessible way.

In the creation of the online toolkit for SEP, it was important for us to ensure accessibility both practically and instructionally. Instructionally speaking, there are a few points to consider when presenting learning content:

  • you must ensure that learning content is broken into bite-sized pieces and
  • is in an easily readable format and presented in a logical order.

On a practical note, we wanted to ensure that the programme would be accessible to individuals with visual impairments and therefore chose highly contrasting colours for the background and fonts.

Memorising

Persuasive Information Delivery ensures that content is communicated in a way that resonates with the learner. It is paramount that information delivery is gripping and encapsulates learning in a way that makes it easy to remember.

Interactivity is key, learning becomes memorable when it captures the interests, minds and imaginations of learners. This means that the goal is to present information in a way that is refreshing and creative, utilising all of the resources at your disposal and may look like the use of images, videos, storytelling, problem-posing and real life examples.

Through the online Sensory Engagement toolkit, our intention was to use real life instances, stories and individuals to make learners see mundane, everyday interactions in a new light. By introducing individuals and allowing them to share their experiences and emotional responses, we were able to appeal to the learner in a manner that was beyond just knowledge retention.

Far beyond just sitting down and memorising a set of rules or policies on how to approach an individual with a hearing or sight impairment, the online learning toolkit for SEP presents learners with a problem or situation that they must learn how to deal with. Situations like these are far more memorable than a set of rules.

Motivation

For example, a child may have been shown how to wash his hands; he may have even practiced it with his parents on a number of occasions but repeatedly fails to do it when left to his own devices. This is because he lacks the motivation. Learners are similar – it is important to build into your e-learning the reasoning of why it matters in the real world or learners will fail to apply newfound knowledge in everyday life.

It’s important to bring out actions and consequences. We applied the strategy of authentic learning or ‘real-world scenarios’ as our main approach as it is a very effective tool for learning and driving behavioural change.

Picture: Michael Cooper

Gavin Woods from Aurion Learning and Stephanie O’Kane from RNIB at launch of Sensory Engagement Programme online toolkit

Through the use of short films and storytelling, the learning content for SEP contained the motivation for learners to change their behaviour the next time they find themselves interacting with an individual with a hearing and visual impairment.

We were really pleased to get to work alongside four of the largest organisations who provide support and advocacy services for people with sight and hearing loss across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; the Royal National Institute of Blind People Northern Ireland (RNIB NI), Action on Hearing LossNational Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) and DeafHear.

Our hope is that this free, online toolkit will make it possible for service providers across Ireland to provide basic Deaf and Visual Awareness training for their staff. With easily downloadable resources, engaging stories and bite-sized learning content, the toolkit promises not just to create more head knowledge but instead create awareness for staff working in service providers to not only know, but to do something with what they know and ultimately change the lives of those living with sensory difficulties.

The SEP online training toolkit was launched in Derry-Londonderry on 21 October, 2013. We will continue to work with the partners to monitor and assess the impact that it has had on both organisations and those with hearing difficulties.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates.