Stories of Real-Life Fiascos and Blunders Motivate Learners – Tip #121

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Have you ever tried teaching a new employee how to use the software your company currently uses? Did you find it easy to teach or were there challenges you encountered?

Now, think about training employees about your branding or corporate identity? Was this easier or harder than teaching them how to use the software?

Most content discourage learners because the concept is too foreign. Or they may think it’s not applicable. Sometimes, they simply can’t associate any meaning with your training content.

The challenge then is how to make learning ideas concrete.

Why Stories?

By relating abstract ideas to familiar events, stories go beyond educating and engaging learners logically. They also inspire and motivate learners by involving them emotionally.

By letting learners see both the positive and negative impacts of certain actions, stories can influence the way people think, feel and act. They can create a shared vision of the company’s future, help employees accept new initiatives, and impart corporate culture and values. In short, stories can be agents of change within your organization.

Related Tip: Tip #99 – Changing Behavior by Advancing Experience and Stories

3 Tips on Building Story-Driven Lessons

Do you know of any blunders or fiascos within or outside your organization? Don’t be afraid of them. Rather, use them to drive a point.

Follow these 3 tips and building your story-driven lessons should be easier.

1 Know your audience

What lessons do your learners need to learn? You can connect the fiasco or blunder to learning objectives and focus on the consequences of what happens if learners fail to succeed or do something. Make them think about the effects of failure.

Take a look at these examples:
Illustration 1
Abstract: Follow ethical standards.
Concrete: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades.

Concrete: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades.

Illustration 2
Abstract: The right temperature setting is below 350 degrees.
Concrete: An explosion happened at 350 degrees which damaged the boiler.
Related Tip: Tip #1 – Use ERRORS in making technical eLearning engaging and embedding objectives in error discovery and resolution

2 Have a clear theme in mind
Ask learners a story question. This draws learners into the story and helps them relate to and interpret the fiasco or blunder.          
Using Illustration 1 as an example, here are possible story questions a trainer may ask learners:
Illustration 1: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades
Has this happened to you?
What could be the reasons for this?
How does this impact your performance and reputation?
How would a situation like this impact your income, job, and family?

As you probably notice, story questions make it clear to the learners how doing or not doing something will impact themselves and others. Story questions carry concrete messages about the consequences of their actions (e.g., reputation, income, family, and performance).
Related Tip: Tip #45 – Using Story Morals To Turn Bad Situations into Learning Goldmines
3 Choose real-life stories
Use real-life stories because these stick in the memories of learners.
Don’t fake the stories. Obtain the stories from events that actually happened and use facts to support them. You can source these stories from your company data or employees in the following areas:
Product returns
Customer complaints
Safety accidents
to comply with laws and policies
Breakdown and downtime
And many others.
Related Tip: Tip #36 – Why Experience Results in Superior Learning


One of the challenges in elearning is making very generic and static content useful and meaningful to the learner. We engage learners by transforming the content from abstract to concrete through the use of real-life fiascos and blunders.

Related Tips

Tip #1 – Use ERRORS in making technical eLearning engaging and embedding objectives in error discovery and resolution
Tip #19 – Incidents of errors as basis for technical learning design
Tip #29 – Trial and Error: Beng, Beng Bingo Learning 
Tip #33 – Using Problems, Diagnostics and Solutions in eLearning
Tip #36 – Why Experience Results in Superior Learning Tip #45 – Using Story Morals To Turn Bad Situations into Learning Goldmines T
ip #99 – Changing Behavior by Advancing Experience and Stories


Learning Facts and Foundational Knowledge with Stories
Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne. How to Increase Higher Level Thinking.
The Center for Development and Learning, Dec. 7, 2009.  The Battle of Stories – Instructional Design Approach
Tip #43 – How to Use Questions to Immerse Learners in Your Lesson
Tip #55 – Discover the Secrets that Make the Story-Based Lesson Tick

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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