#ASTD2012, Session Notes: Building Story and Experienced-based Learning Systems

This was my third session of the first official day at the 2012 ASTD conference. In this session, Building story and experienced based learning systems, Ray Jimenez discusses the importance of story and experience in learning systems. He began the session with an exercise where we had to discuss in pairs a story of a personal experience – something we learned that we can’t forget.

Ray Jimenez
Ray Jimenez

Jimenez explains that stories communicate our experiences. While referencing Tell Me a Story by Roger Schank, he points out that our mind indexes stories to real life events. Because our mind is made up of incomplete stories, we look for more stories to complete our incomplete stories. As a result, we learn faster with stories.

Stories are so important that Pixar does not render a single image until they get the story right. The stories do not have to be long. We also learn through micro-stories. Jimenez discusses how businesses are using stories, and references the book, The springboard: How storytelling ignites action by Stephen Denning.

Jimenez then asked how we used stories in our learning approach. He then began to outline a method where he weaves story content with factual content. He stressed the need for both content types in order for learning to take place. Through a number of examples, he explained the reason for each of his story structure steps. He typically ends each main point of the structure with a question. He wants learners to start thinking about what they would do in a situation. As he pointed out, people are ready to learn, but we screwed it by telling them the answer. As he continued, we tell learners things we want them to know because we want to control the situation. Jimenez introduced a short story to add levity to the lesson. Here is that story:

Learners learn because there is a personal reason. Because we do not want to waste a learner’s time, we need to create stories that focus on what a learner must learn: skills they must perform quickly, things they must avoid, and skills that are hard to learn and will result in negative results if not learned. Stories should remind learners of a consequence, e.g., results of food safety gone wrong.

Scenarios are just tools. Jimenez uses stories to relate to the learner. He invites learner to help solve the problem in the story. He uses emotion to build this phase of the story. He also uses questions to keep the mind engaged. Here are some examples of vignettes that Jimenez shared with us.

We tie stories back to our own experiences. You use questions to give learner permission to tie the story to their personal experiences.

Where do you get stories to teach lessons? Basically, there are real stories everywhere, do not try to make them up. Go to the source. Everyone has a great story when you ask them the following two questions: What is the worse thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? Regardless, it is important to make the stories interactive rather than narrative in nature. You want learners to engage with the story.

Finally, Jimenez provided us with some tools to help develop stories and to encourage students to write stories in the classroom. Here are those tools:

  • Bubbl.us  – mind mapping tool. It is a great tool for mapping out stories or concepts
  • Stories2learn.com – This is a tool with which students can write their own stories. You must create a guide for what is considered an acceptable story.

I personally own Ray Jimenez’ book on story and experienced-based learning called Scenario-based Learning: Using Stories to Engage eLearners. I attended the presentation to help fill in some gaps I had in my learning. I learned some valuable lessons from his stories.

Is there anyone out there who is effectively using stories in elearning?

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