How to Embed Learning Goals in Stories

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Gist: convert learning goals into stories by allowing the characters to show and tell the desired outcomes.

I just read Roger Schank’s article in eLearn Magazine on Learning through Storytelling, Not Documents.

A couple of points struck me:

People love telling stories listening to them. Most people have lots of stories to tell. Some, who think more deeply about their experiences than others, may have better stories to tell, but everyone has them and there is much to learn from listening to them.

Somehow the age of documents has perverted all this. Now 20 stories may be hidden in a single document and all the typically fun and memorable details that should have been there may be encoded in a way that is neither memorable nor findable. The desktop metaphor that was given to us by the original GUI designers (some of whom worked for me back in the old days, oddly enough) has only exacerbated this problem by encouraging us to create documents (like the one I am writing now, for example.)

Reflecting on these points reminded me of the challenge in drawing from our experiences and telling our stories specially in learning situations.  When I ask participants in my workshops to use storytelling in their eLearning design projects, I often see statement of facts and information.  Notably, many people develop mental blocks and emotional hurdles in conveying learning objectives as stories. It never really occurred to them that this is an option. Actually, it’s a better one!

Learning objectives or goals are traditionally statements in training documents. Hidden, however, in each learning objective are dozens of stories.

Instead of being static, stale and boring, and, therefore, undermining their value as tool, learning objectives could be converted into stories.
These are steps in embedding learning goals in stories:

1.    Think of learning objectives as outcomes and as observable behaviors.
2.    Think deeply of the patterns of behaviors and the associated stories with them.
3.    Tell the story that helps learners identify and discovery what you want them to learn.
4.    Show the actions and use first-person words of characters.

See the illustration below. 
Source: Scenario-based eLearning (2009)
The key benefit of stating a learning goal as a story is that it allows us the opportunity to continue using the story to deliver the rest of the lesson. When we start using a traditional, static and factual learning objective, it comes up unnatural at that point to shift the lesson into a story.

I am with Roger Shank. Documents bury the human stories from which learners will more easily recognize and understand the embedded ideas.

Ray Jimenez, PhD 3Minute Worlds – Learning Community Social Learning, Work and Performance 3Minute eLearning Games “Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

3 thoughts on “How to Embed Learning Goals in Stories

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