All posts by rance2ya

Engaging Stories

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I’ve shown The Girl Effect video to several audiences. The reaction is always emotional. Though the goal of this video is not necessarily instruction, it is a masterpiece of storytelling. Relatable character. Strong conflict. And it is directly linked to the action it’s audience should take.

After you view the video, post your observations in the comments below. What was your response emotionally? Who is the relatable character? Why is she relatable? What is the conflict? What action is the audience supposed to take?

Watch the video again with an eye for detail. What makes this video so engaging? Take note of elements of the video that are surprising, mysterious and build curiosity. It builds credibility and breaks down an enormous problem into a small possible solution. It fits into the category of communication and marketing, but we can learn from this.

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Building a Case For Stories In Learning

Story Stakeholders

The value of storytelling for training may be difficult to quantify, but if stakeholders or management balk at story design, it’s necessary for instructional designers and other learning professionals to be able to defend the position of story design with evidence. So let’s work together to gather that evidence.

Here are two articles to get the conversation started:

Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning, by Connie Malamud

Why Is Story Telling So Powerful In Learning, And How Can You Learn The Skills, The Training and Development World

Post your thoughts on these articles and add links to other research you’ve done or personal experiences you’ve had that build the case for stories in learning in the comments below.

Story Design Master Class Series

Register for this Master Class Series here.

Join ATD Dallas and Rance Greene for Story Design, an engaging, online Master Class Series. In this 3-session workshop, you are equipped with the tools to discover, design and deliver stories for training and communications. In-session practice and short assignments strengthen your skills to create relatable characters in strong conflict and move your audience to action. All three sessions (May 8, 11, 15) are only $195.

Story Design Poster

The Ideal Solution

Attend this free webinar on March 23, 11-12 (CT). Register here.

How can you be sure that your solution is the aligned with the business outcome? What is the business outcome?  Furthermore, what is the root problem that is preventing the business outcome from being achieved?

There is a way to find out. When stakeholders come to you requesting training, like the characters in this video, use the PRIMED framework to ask questions that will reveal the business outcome and the root problem.

primed

For instance, when a stakeholder requests customer service training, avoid asking a question that focuses on the assumed solution, “What kind of training do you want?” Rather, ask something like, “What first brought this need to your attention?” (Initial Indicator) Help the stakeholder think about the why behind the training. “Can you tell me a story that’s happening in the call center that illustrates the need for training?” (Real Stories), or “Is there anything in the workplace that could be distracting them from giving good customer service?” (Distractions)

As you listen to their answers, look for a measurable business outcome (customer satisfaction scores, increase in sales) and the root problem (staff is so overwhelmed by paperwork that they can’t focus on giving good customer service, sales people lack business acumen). Once these are identified, take the information the stakeholder gives you and use your KSA filter to determine the ideal solution.

KSA Filter.png

If the root problem is a work environment or process issue (like staff being so overwhelmed by paperwork that they cannot deliver quality customer service), then the solution is to fix the process (repair broken systems, streamline processes, eliminate inefficiencies). Training is not the solution for these root problems. If, however, the issue lies on the right side of the filter, then the stakeholder who is asking for training is correct…training can affect the problem.

It’s important to identify what kind of training solution is needed: Knowledge, Skills or Attitudes, or a combination of these three.

Can the learner perform the desired behavior successfully if they are given a little guidance? If so, it’s probably a KNOWLEDGE solution. Often a job aid or visual guide accompanying the training will help learners change their behaviors without too much trouble.

Is it reasonable to think that learners can perform the required action without practice? If not, you’re dealing with a SKILL. Your training solution needs to include practice doing the skills learners are expected to do on the job.

Are learners asking “Why do we need to change the way we are doing this? The other way was easier!” Do they feel like their performance has no impact on the entire process? This is an ATTITUDE solution, which should explain the importance of the new actions they are being asked to do, the benefits to the learner, and an understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture.

Pump your stakeholder for answers that reveal the business outcome and root problem. Use your KSA filter. Offer them a solution that will actually work!

Making Stories Real Through Audio

 

Knowing that stories are a rock solid strategy for learning is not enough. Writing terrific stories with relateable characters in conflict is not enough either. Those stories have to be transformed into tangible delivery vehicles. In other words, the story has to actually reach the learner. Video and animation often come to mind as development options. But there is another tool that is more accessible and easier to edit: audio.

Audio relies on voice-over talent, sound effects and music.There are audio editing tools available that are fairly easy to master, including Audacity, which is a free (and robust) audio editing tool. When I was asked to speak at ATD Dallas’ Technology Special Interest Group about creating audio tracks, I decided to do an experiment.

I wrote a script for a short 25 second story followed by a 35 second monologue. During the session, I cast the characters from the participants in the session, coached them, recorded them and edited the audio on the spot. I added musical underscore and exported the audio as an MP3. All in less than an hour. We had time to talk about equipment and some other tricks of the audio trade as well. I ended the session with a discussion on what we could do with that MP3. How do we get this story to learner? I got some great responses:

  • Publish as a podcast
  • Pair with animated characters
  • Upload the audio to Captivate and play it across slides with related content
  • Play the audio as is for a live or virtual audience

As an example, I created the short PowerPoint above that matched the content of the audio. Simple visuals that are synced to the audio. So if you’ve decided to make story the centerpiece of your training, or even a small part of it, consider audio and its endless possibilities.

“I Don’t Have Time To Storyboard!”

Storyboard house 1

This guy is really happy with his new home. He hired an architect, who designed it just as he envisioned. Apparently, this dude likes symmetry.

Storyboard house 2

His neighbor is not so happy. The builders just showed up and started building. The builders have a lot of re-work to do.

When a homeowner decides to build, they hire an architect, who designs something according to their wishes. The architect passes that design on to the contractor, who hires subcontractors. The house is built according to design and the homeowner is happy.

Similarly, the stakeholder in a training intervention hires an instructional designer to design a course according to their specifications. The instructional designer passes their design to the developer and the support team to create the course accordingly. The stakeholder is happy and the learning intervention is successful.

Storyboard Compare 2
Thanks to Kevin Thorn of Nuggethead Studioz for the house / course analogy.

What do the architect and the instructional designer have in common? The architect produces a blueprint. Likewise, the instructional designer creates a STORYBOARD!

The storyboard is like a blueprint for course-building. Without it, the stakeholder does not have a clear picture of what the final will look like and the likelihood of changes in the development phase increases.

A storyboard helps the designer spot problems before development begins and decreases the likelihood of an irate stakeholder who is asking you to rebuild their house.

Yet even with all of the benefits of storyboarding, few instructional designers actually do it. “I’m the designer and the developer.” “I don’t really know how.” And, of course, “I don’t have time.”

Storyboarding is a skill–a fairly simple one–that, if mastered, will save you a load of time. And it really doesn’t take that long to create a storyboard. Even if you are a one-person training department, resist the urge to put on your developer hat before the design is complete. It will save you countless hours of needless work.

I’ll share more on storyboarding techniques, but I’d like to hear some of your best practices, or frustrations, with storyboarding. Let me know in the comments!

 

Define: Micro learning

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Touted as the learning mode for Millennials, micro learning is all the rage. It is often packaged as a series of videos, 3-10 minutes in length, that learners can consume at their discretion. Most companies who produce micro learning bill their products as the solution to the problem that humans, especially young people, have an attention span of 90 seconds.

But don’t be fooled by this limiting view.

Micro learning is learning in short segments. Plain and simple.

It’s a fantastic way of learning and it can take any form: podcast, poster (like the picture above), job aid, live interaction, virtual session, song, jingle, meme, text and, of course, video (see the video for the above poster here and brush up your parallax knowledge–you’ll really learn something–and it’s kind of funny).

Concerning our attention span, if we start seeing a mass exodus of millennials from movie cinemas after the previews, we should start worrying. Otherwise, we should be careful that our design solutions aren’t boring the audience. Rather, our designs should reflect the real needs of our learners and speak to them in a personal way, like we know them. Click here to read more on how to get to know your learners.

Set yourself free from the narrow definitions of micro learning and start using it in wonderfully creative ways that meet your learners’ needs.

 

Define: ENGAGE

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ENGAGE: Possibly the most ubiquitous word in marketing, learning and development and training circles. Recently, I was speaking to the Girl Scouts Volunteer Empowerment team in Dallas on the topic of connecting stories to engagement. I wanted to bring more clarity to this often-used term.

After watching The Girl Effect video together, we identified the elements of the story that we felt were “engaging”–and there were many–watch the video for yourself and try doing the same (you’ll be writing for a long time).  Then we compared our descriptions with thesaurus synonyms:

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Suddenly, the word “engage” took on a new, more powerful meaning. It’s all about strong actions now. Grip! Capture! Arrest! So, when we say that training and communications must be engaging, remember what we’re aiming for: a call to strong action!

How Stories Connect To Learning

StoryLearning 04If you read the quotes from What People Say About Stories or you’ve done any amount of research on brain science and learning, it is evident that stories are a powerful tool for learning, but most research materials are still vague about how it works. How can stories be constructed to best connect to learning? It’s actually very simple, but often these story design elements are omitted or weak.

There are two basic elements to a story that connects strongly to learning:

StoryLearning 02

Characters + Conflict. The elements are simple. And though stories can be complex and daunting to write, with these two elements, a story can be created that supports learning. But do all stories with characters and conflict connect with learning? You may have encountered something like this in a training course: “Carissa wanted to apply for a second job with a company that does business with her company. What should she do?” Carissa has a conflict (in this case, literally, a conflict of interest). Do I care about Carissa? Not really. At this point, Carissa is just a name, not a character. Is the conflict strong? Mm, probably not strong enough to make me want to know more. Let’s take the principle one level deeper:

StoryLearning 03

Relatable characters & strong conflict that produces a desire in the learner for resolution.

Ah! Relatable characters! Characters I care about! That’s the first step in creating a stronger connection to learning. What if I knew that Carissa was a top-performer in her department and frequently asked for more work? What if I knew that she had some school loans to pay off and could use the extra income? And what if, as in real life, it wasn’t quite so clear cut that the duties she would perform for the second company would be in conflict with her current company? The more I know about her and the more plausible her circumstances are, the more I care about what happens to her.

Conflict. Conflict should be strong enough to make me want to know what happens next. Well-developed characters need strong conflict. Conflict produces the desire for resolution. And that is exactly where the door opens to training. I want resolution. I want to know what Carissa should do. You can teach me what she should do by connecting my desire for resolution to the learning content. This solidifies a strong connection between the story and what I’ve just learned. The stronger the conflict, the stronger the story’s connection to learning.StoryLearningResolution

 

Perhaps, if Carissa’s story stopped right there and asked, “What should Carissa do next?” it would be enough to make me want to know more. But what if the stakes were raised? Carissa applies for and gets the second job and the story reveals that her judgement is compromised because she knows insider information. Suddenly she realizes that she’s made a grave error–one that might cost her job and reputation. With more at risk, and because I have some empathy for Carissa, my desire for resolution is stronger and the connection to story and learning will be long-lasting.

What People Say About Stories

Where learning is concerned, you may be hard pressed to find a better context-builder than stories. The power of stories to increase learning retention are outlined by almost every person who writes on the subject of brain science and learning. Below are a sampling of quotes from 5 authorities on learning/motivating for change.

“We like stories. We learn a lot from stories, and we seem to have a particularly good memory for them. A really well-told story can stick with us for years, even if we’ve only heard it once.”  (Design For How People Learn, Julie Dirksen)

“Stories have been told for thousands of years in order to transfer cultural lore and values. When a great story is told, we lean forward, and our hearts race as the story unfolds.”  (Resonate, Nancy Duarte)

“A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose…putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. More like a flight simulator. Being the audience for a story isn’t so passive, after all. inside, we’re getting ready to act.” (Made To Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath)

“In context of ethics and values, stories help make abstract issues concrete and accessible, especially when we can sympathize or identify with one of the characters.” (Modeling the Message: Communicating Compliance through Organizational Value and Culture, Scott Killingsworth, Social Science Research Network, Oct 1, 2012)

“The best way to unite an idea with an emotion is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy… If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.” (Storytelling That Moves People, Harvard Business Review, June 1, 2003)

I have yet to meet anyone in the training field who has said, “Stories just don’t work for learning.” Though the evidence is abundant both in the context of learning and in everyday life, that stories are incredibly powerful and effective, it is surprising that they are somewhat underused in training. At least in my interactions with other learning professionals, stories seem to be forgotten or inserted as an afterthought or so watered down that they lose their punch. But why not craft a training experience with story as the centerpiece? More on that to come.

What has been your experience with stories in training, both as a trainer and as someone who takes training? Is there a particularly memorable training experience when the story really worked? Are there aspects of story-telling that are problematic for you when it comes to putting it into practice? Please share your thoughts and comments then check out How Stories Connect To Learning.