How Empathy Makes Your Learners Learn – Tip #168

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Back in 2012, Time named Google Glass one of the best inventions of the year, but Google pulled out the headset in 2015 after a short-lived release in 2014. What happened?

Empathy Gap

In marketing speak, Google Glass failed because the team behind it did not do the market research right. A MediaPost article states:

In learning and development, we face the same problem with a different name. Let’s call it the “Empathy Gap.” This happens when the instructional design fails to connect with online learners or meet their actual needs. It happens when trainers fail to stimulate and motivate learners.

Storytelling Links Technology and Empathy

Fortunately, there’s a simple formula to fix the empathy gap in elearning.

Image Source: Jacquelyn Quinones | TEDxIHEParis

Empathy fuels connections and its mechanism is stories, or experiential storytelling, as Bandyd CEO Jacquelyn Quinones calls it. Through stories, we can connect with learners on an emotional level. Stories help learners recall their own memories and experience what others feel as if it was them in that specific situation.

An empathic person says, “I can imagine how that feels.” Empathy is connecting with something in ourselves that knows that feeling in order to connect with others. Empathy is feeling with people. And, stories open the portal and transport us to that emotional or imagined experience.

Stimulating the Growth of Empathy in Online Learning

How then can we leverage storytelling and technology to elicit an empathic response from elearners? Here are some tips:

Weave a story around facts. Hard facts can be emotionally overwhelming so weave them into a story that helps learners feel and take someone else’s perspective.
Create scenarios. When developing stories, try including characters with different emotions and ask learners to identify these emotions and how they might respond to these emotions.
Encourage collaboration and communication. Hearing what others have experienced or think about helps learners understand them. It helps learners put themselves in another person’s shoes or brain.
Customize resources. Some learners are more empathetic than others, so it would be best to tailor resources to meet their specific needs and preferences.


Empathy Gap. Wikipedia
Collin Sebastian. Google Glass and Market Research: A Cautionary Tale. MediaPost Marketing Daily, February 26, 2015
TEDx Talks. Technology’s “empathy gap” | Dan Hon | TEDxLiverpool. August 27, 2014
TEDx Talks. Is Technology killing our empathy? | Jacquelyn Quinones | TEDxIHEParis. June 23, 2016
The RSA. RSA ANIMATE: The Empathic Civilisation. May 6, 2010
Making Facts Stick With Stories – Jiggling Atoms
Creating Micro-Scenarios – X-Men Plays Hockey
Tip #75 – Insight Sharing – How They “Meet and Mate”
Tip #113 – Empathy: Helping Learners to Feel Others

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

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