If you couldn’t attend TLDC’s Community Day on Friday, you missed an amazing day full of networking opportunities and insightful sessions about the power of story. Not to worry! In this post, I share some highlights from the day. In addition, TLDC members can watch session recordings as soon as they’re available on The Training, Learning, and Development Community website.
Okay, on to the highlights!
My adult daughter has dyslexia. Although she loves to read, it often takes her a while to finish a book. She has to slow down, reread passages, and take breaks when the experience gets frustrating. But the other day, she shared with me that she read Gone Girl in a day. She said, “Every time I told myself ‘one more chapter,’ I kept reading because I had to know what happened next!”
When characters we care about are in peril, we have a strong desire to know what will happen next. It’s what often keeps me up late reading “just one more chapter,” and it’s what will compel learners to dig into the content we teach.
Whether we are designing instruction or planning a meeting, Rance called on us to lead with stories. He shared the following four questions for reflection and evaluation:
One reason stories are such strong motivators is they activate most parts of the learner’s brain. As Margie Meacham of LearningToGo discussed, well-tuned stories release dopamine—the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is the “feel good” neurotransmitter, and it boosts motivation and attention while helping us learn.
Through a process known as neural coupling, stories activate parts of the brain that allow the learner to transform the story into their own ideas and experience.
Stories also build connections. In a process called mirroring, neurons in both the storyteller’s and the listener’s brains begin to modulate on the same wavelength. For this reason, stories can be effective for helping establish rapport and build relationships. They also add context to information we teach, helping the learner build a framework on which to hang the new information. As Margie reminded us, stories are the glue that hold the information together. If we don’t provide that glue, learners may come away with the wrong message because, as she said, “in the absence of a story, your brain makes one up.”
Margie advises making the story about something your audience cares about, so they can picture themselves as the protagonist. Don’t make it about you.
Experts are often limited by their thoughts, beliefs, and biases. This limits our creative energy. But as Taruna pointed out, “our success depends not on how quickly we learn, but on how quickly we unlearn.” We must set aside our preconceptions and assumptions and start with a clean slate. In Zen Buddhism, this is known as Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” It’s about approaching life and its challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm, without bias.
Rather than seeking validating information, we need to pay more attention and embody the perspective of being an amateur. As Taruna shared, Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” Experts need to practice using the perspective of an amateur.
Here are a few of the tips Tarun shared for uncovering deeper stories about people, products, and processes:
A story in which nothing bad happens to the characters isn’t a story at all. Stories need conflict to be interesting. As Tameka J. Harris shared, “the best stories are messy.”
Our life stories can be complicated too, with many ups and downs. Tameka shared the moving story of her career’s trajectory and how being fired led her to transition into a new position through these 5Cs:
She shared that we often need to reframe how we look at rejection and setbacks, so we can appreciate the color and texture that these experiences add to our story.
Since we know that the best stories are messy, how do we manage that mess when we’re crafting eLearning scenarios? Christy Tucker of the Experiencing eLearning blog shared some practical tips for managing the complexity of branching scenarios.
She walked through how she uses Twine to build the story and conduct SME reviews. She also discussed the advantages of a Branch and Bottleneck structure, which helps create a deeper story while managing complex branching.
How many times have you had a great idea for a scenario but then got stuck waiting for the SME to provide information to flesh out the details? Christy’s solution is to do your best to research the topic, and start writing. Then show the SMEs.
The blank page is often the obstacle. But if you give them something to edit, they will correct it, and you can move forward. Christy shared on her blog a list of questions to ask SMEs when writing branching scenarios.
When discussing real-world job tasks, the key question she asks is, “And then what happens?”
What happens if the employee does it right?
What happens if they get it wrong?
And then what happens?
Bryan Smith shared the 5Ws and H of instructional design, providing the following examples of questions learners ask:
We all know we need to address the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? But as Bryan pointed out, trainers and instructional designers often answer the “why” question with something like, “because it’s required.” He encouraged us to shift the thinking from compliance to how the information helps the learner—and the company—be successful.
To quote Cara North, companies tend to focus on compliance courses as a CYA measure, but we’re “not in the underwear business.” Our focus should be helping learners succeed in their jobs and showing them how the work they do contributes to the organization’s success.
Here are a few of my takeaways from the event that went beyond the information the presenters shared.
Stories are the most powerful way to motivate, teach, learn, and connect with others. To develop effective stories, we need the creative mindset of a beginner, the courage to make them messy, and effective tools and processes to manage their complexity.
Many thanks to Luis Malbas, the Founder of TLDC, for putting together an incredible event and for facilitating such a great community of learning and development professionals. If you’re not already a member of TLDC, I highly recommend joining. (I don’t receive a thing for saying that; I just really love the community.)
The speakers for Community Day are prolific experts with a wealth of information to share via their blogs and books. A few provided recommendations from other authors as well.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount if you purchase from the links provided here. This does not affect the price you pay.
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What are your favorite ways to use stories for learning and development ? If you attended Community Day, what were your takeaways? Post a comment below.
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