Do You Tell Stories, Rumors or Controversies?

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Jakob Nielsen: E-Learning: An Oxymoron? Story Telling, Narrative and Web Reading, and Social Learning

Jakob Nielsen Alert Box, June 9, 2008, compares Writing Style for Print vs. Web.


Application Points: Participants in social learning are ALL engaged but differ in pursuing stories. Creators are “’ruthless” problem-solvers. The spectators allow others to weave the stories. In Learning 2.0, stories are foremost.


First, I like the way he adds a summary on top of the page:


Summary: Linear vs. non-linear. Author-driven vs. reader-driven. Storytelling vs. ruthless pursuit of actionable content. Anecdotal examples vs. comprehensive data. Sentences vs. fragments.


The summary tells the reader instantly of the “application points.” So starting today, I should apply what I preach. Add “Application Points” in my Blogs and comments.

My second observation is how Nielsen connects the role of story telling with web scanning and “ruthless pursuit of actionable content” as opposed to linear, author-driven narrative.

“In print, you can spice up linear narrative with anecdotes and individual examples that support a storytelling approach to exposition. On the Web, such content often feels like a filler; it slows down users and stands in the way of their getting to the point.”

“Web content must be brief and get to the point quickly, because users are likely to be on a specific mission. In many cases, they’ve pulled up the page through a search. Web users want actionable content; they don’t want to fritter away their time on (otherwise enjoyable) stories that are tangential to their current goals. ”

Nielsen reinforced what I often observed (e-Learning Behaviors). In web scanning, searching and learning, the reader uses the website to support his/her own story (to piece together their own story), while in linear, author-driven narrative for educational purposes, the author leads in the storytelling approach. The author can spice up the stories. The reader allows the author “to creatively construct the experience” for the reader.

Nielsen’s ideas helped me connect storytelling, engagement and learning in social learning environments. I continue to wrestle with these issues. Scanning, picking fragments of data is our way of completing “incomplete stories”. In Social Learning, Networking and Collaboration, the learner or user characterized as a creator is goal-driven and takes some action to solve or satisfy his/her needs. The creator writes a Blog, shares video or makes comments on others’ Blogs as a way of finding a solution or following a path with the end result of resolving some concerns.

For instance, when I asked others why they Blog, oftentimes, they say:

“I want to be part of a conversation. The conversation adds different dimensions to my thinking process. I always don’t rush to write a Blog, but I read (form of listening) what others are saying. I ask questions. I devise my own answers and in some cases, I ask others to comment on my thoughts. It is a very personal process.”

From Nielsen’s comment, I infer that scanning information in the Internet and social networking is a “process” of completing one’s story. Our needs are our own stories and our stories engage us to action. Roger Schank (Tell Me A Story) says, our minds consist of “incomplete stories.” Seeking to complete our stories in conversations aids us to complete our stories and move along.”

Practical Impacts:

In social learning, participants get more engaged when postings are conversations and storytelling. That is why successful professional Bloggers who blog for a living, use stories and rumors to engage readers.

Can we do the same in business social learning? Do you tell stories?

Some things I have tried doing.

  1. Start with a controversy, conflict or throw a “monkey wrench” in your audience’s mind.
  2. Use exaggerated visuals. They communicate faster, crispier, and vividly.
  3. Start with “summaries” like Nielsen’s Alerts or “Application Points” – ideas that really matter.
  4. Be Succinct (Opppss .. I better end this).

Ray Jimenez, PhD

“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”