Why Stories Matter

shutterstock_381846403 One day a nervous professor was standing in front of utterly uninterested class wondering how to start her first lecture. Standing in front of the class where everyone was checking their phones, barely glancing at her, she began by saying, “Let me tell you a story.” Suddenly everyone’s head snapped up and all eyes were on her: she had their attention.

Everyone loves stories. From the time we learnt to communicate, stories have been the chosen medium to pass on information and knowledge. Even in our daily lives, we all turn into storytellers; around water coolers, during our conversations with friends and family, we narrate our everyday events as stories.
Let’s explore why we should use stories in e-learning and if stories really do help us learn better.

Stories Are Attention-Grabbing
The reaction of the brain while engaging with stories is very different to reading or listening to information.
Paul Zak, an American neuroeconomist, has extensively researched the effects of storytelling on the human brain. In a study, he showed participants a video of a father and his young, cancer-ridden son. He then drew the blood samples from the participants before and after watching the video. The research found that two chemicals, oxytocin and cortisol, are released in the blood of the participants who watched the story. Cortisol is the “attention” chemical; it helps you to focus your attention.

Paul Zak mentions in an article that, “Scientists liken attention to a spotlight. We are only able to shine it on a narrow area. If that area seems less interesting than some other area, our attention wanders.”

Stories manage to “hook” you and retain your attention long enough for you to get involved in the story.

 

Stories Engage More Parts of the Brain
When you read a story, your imagination is in the driver’s seat. The brain readily supplies you with the complete picture of what is being said in a story.
For example, if I tell you a story about a Medical Representative, who is waiting nervously in a hallway of a busy sub-urban clinic, anxious that he is about to make his first call. The visual and auditory sections of your brain have already created a snapshot of this bustling place. Now if we add that he sat clutching a steaming cup of coffee, the olfactory sensory areas of the brain would evoke the smell of the coffee. Then if the story continued saying that when the person heard his name being called out, he jolted, spilling the coffee all over himself, the motor and sensory areas of the brain would light up, as you imagine the movement of the person and hot coffee spilling.

This shows that stories use more parts of the brain and give you a richer brain experience. Since you are enjoying the stories, you understand the content more deeply and this helps you learn and remember it for a longer time.

Stories Engage Empathy for Teaching
When you listen to or read a story, you get drawn into the action and connect with the characters in the story.
In the same study that Paul Zak found cortisol in the bloodstream of participants who watched a narrative video, the research also found that Oxytocin was present. Oxytocin is the “empathy chemical”. It makes you emotionally connect with the story and “feel” what the characters are feeling. So if you were watching Harry Potter, your heart rate will increase and your palms will sweat as you watch Harry confront Voldermort.
This immersion into a story is explained by psychologists Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock in their theory of narrative transportation. The theory proposes that when we listen to stories we are ‘transported’ into its world. Even though you know you are watching or reading fiction, your brain stimulates the emotion you imagine the character must be feeling. You experience the incident without actually going through it yourself.

 

Stories Are Remembered Longer
In a study, researchers at Emory University found that stories caused neural changes in the brain that remained for several days after reading the story.
This illustrates the power of the story and why we remember them longer. So if your sales training include stories of actual incidents and anecdotes of what worked and what didn’t, it would be more impactful than learning “sales techniques” in a course.

 

Stories Add Meaning and Context
Unlike a string of facts or a large chunk of information where the reader has to construct the meaning and the internal connections, stories present us with information in a coherent form.
Stories bring information within a context and make it more real and memorable. They transform the abstract ideas into concrete, relatable examples.
“Through story, students can take data and facts that might seem to be disjointed pieces of information and tie them all together in one picture.” (Simmons, 2007; Green 2004).
Here is an example illustrating the effectiveness of “storyfying” information.

 

For_the_blog_new (2)

Source acknowledgments:
Chaos theory. (2016, June 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:37, June 22, 2016, from
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chaos_theory&oldid=726366272
Story based on: http://morning-glory.skynetblogs.be/archive/2005/05/14/the-butterfly-effect.html

Thus we see that stories affect us deeply; they engage us at an emotional and cerebral level. Stories are tools that can be leveraged to make learning more powerful and engaging.
The young professor, who used a story to get the classes’ attention, used the power of the story to make learning more memorable.

To quote from an old proverb:
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

7 Ways to Present Learning Objectives Creatively

Every Instructional Designer (ID) understands the importance of specifying clear learning objectives for an eLearning course. One of ID’s jobs is to set the focus of learning and stating the objectives right at the outset of a course helps learners achieve them. Learning objectives define the purpose of learning or in other words, what you want your learners to learn or be able to do. Knowing the objectives is also motivating for learners to know what they would achieve from the course. Course creators and IDs can use the learning objectives as a basis to decide what to include in the course, how to design learning activities and for course evaluation.

Most of the times, the focus is on creating the right learning objectives and the aspect of presenting them effectively may be overlooked. The most common way of presenting learning objectives is in the form of a bulleted list. However, this may not always be effective, and there could be a need to communicate the value of learning objectives in a more meaningful way. Especially, if this is the first screen learners are going to view, and you want to hook them or bring about a change in their thought process.

With this thought, our ID team at Harbinger Interactive Learning brainstormed and collated a variety of innovative ways to present learning objectives, which they have been using to create ‘learner-centric’ trainings. I am sharing a few of them here in the form of an infographic.

An infographic presenting innovative ways to present learning objectives

Creative and/or visual representation of learning objectives makes them more meaningful and interesting for learners. What do you think? Any more ideas on how you present learning objectives? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A Comprehensive and Easy to Follow Storyboard Template for Free Download

In my previous blog – Storyboarding – A Primer and Current Perspective – I identified common barriers and challenges to storyboarding. Based on my experience, I believe that storyboarding is central to eLearning course development. For any course, a comprehensive storyboard set provides a clear and approvable plan to all those involved in its creation. A great storyboard set defines the desired learning experience, structures key content, and links each screen to learner needs and course outcomes.

So is there a standard template for storyboarding?

A e-learning storyboard broadly specifies the onscreen text, narration script, audio and visual elements, and navigation and interaction instructions. While there are many options that you may find online, there has yet to be a consensus about a standard template for a storyboard. However, a good storyboard should include the following information per screen (or interactivity, depending on the level of detail):

  • A numbering scheme for the storyboard set (that helps you understand sequences and branching paradigms
  • A representation of the screen itself (sometimes a sketch)
  • On-screen text
  • Audio narrative
  • Explanation of interactives, transitions, etc
  • Branching and navigation guidance
  • Learning outcomes addressed or contributed to by the screen

Click here to access a sample storyboard template, which includes these elements.

Storyboarding TemplateYou can pull all/specific sections from this template to suit your needs. Happy storyboarding!

About Author

Todd KasenbergWith career stints in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, Todd Kasenberg, Principal of Guiding Star Communications and Consulting, brings years of experience and expertise in group processes, adult learning, online learning and marketing communications to his clients. Todd first dipped his toes into the e-learning pond in 2005, and since has used some of the best available e-learning composing tools, including Raptivity, to delight a number of clients in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Todd’s work has reached and delighted thousands of online learners, in both formal and informal learning contexts. He is an often invited speaker and workshop facilitator, loves to talk apps, mobile learning, and job aids, and is a software entrepreneur. Know more about Todd at http://raptivity.com/toddkasenberg.html

Storyboarding – A Primer and Current Perspective

Those who know me would tell you that I have a disposition towards technocracy – I love to contemplate how processes can be improved and how tools to improve processes can be created and implemented. It made me popular, even a shining star, in some past career roles; it also earned me some enmity, especially when colleagues had to adopt something new as a result of my efforts.

Storyboarding

I share this so that you can understand the common barriers to storyboarding – and also understand my own mixed feelings about this practice in the development of learning programs. I’m not the one to create work – I’m one to eliminate it, to restructure it, or to “work smarter, not harder”.

On the surface, storyboarding just seems like much ado with little return. Let me see if I can convince you (and me!) that this is not the case, and that when done with rigour, storyboarding will save a whole lot of grief.

I love the discovery part of a new learning program. Love it! My more significant contributions for most of my blended and e-learning work is in listening to the client’s needs, talking to client stakeholders, talking to the “learners”, and synthesizing insights that move the program forward. From a guided discovery process to the elaboration of key themes and “actions and behaviours that must be changed”, through the development of what I call a “Learning Map” (or course syllabus) and the creation of an editorial outline, I am in my element. It feels like brilliant play, working in Mindjet’s MindManager and Word templates to pull together something truly satisfying.

The editorial outline, I had always felt, was where the real action was. I tend to indicate information about a section or unit title, some information about the Learning Outcomes to be achieved, and what methods (e.g., video, interactives) can be brought in to course development to make it zing. I take the opportunity, at this step, to elaborate about how to evaluate change and success for the learner.

Historically, after sign-off of my Learning Map by “the client”, I would get busy building, working with SMEs. It often is PowerPoint slide-based, with intent to push to a rapid e-learning composing tool. Such tools should preferably be interactivity-based. Challenges always arise after this early content collection/action phase – because stakeholders want to review, and they just can’t break past early visuals.

And then, the (less than) fun begins. If you’ve been at this for a while, you are well aware of the misery involved with trying to collect review comments from multiple stakeholders. PowerPoint, until its cloud implementation (and not all of us are there yet!), was largely useless in managing a review process with multiple stakeholders. For built interactives, where do you store the digital media – and how do you ask stakeholders to structure their comments? What tools should be used? (These frustrations have prompted me to create a social slide review platform called Slide Swarm™ [www.slideswarm.com], about which I invite your interest.)

And here’s what I’ve learned. In my rush to compose after what can best be called a “10,000 foot view of the landscape”, you open up a world of back and forth trouble. If you are composing with an off-the-shelf learning tool, maybe that’s not time=money (although I still find that it is!). But if you are doing any custom composing with a technology team, your budget will balloon, your timeline will bloat and it just won’t be rewarding for anyone.

Enter storyboarding. Storyboarding allows you, as the e-learning designer, to extrapolate from an Editorial Outline to the screen or slide or media level. It allows you to detail what will happen, step by step, to get the learner to the outcome. A storyboard portrays the interactivity on the whole, while allowing the e-learning strategist to confirm the content, titles, placement of imagery and media, degree of interactivity, and linkages across the corpus of the program. It is a screen by screen description of content + usability of the content.

I have been known to groan when reading, in client requirements, an indication that storyboarding was part of the project. In part, this groaning is because I want to rush in (and you know who they say rushes in, right?). And yet, almost every time, I gain clarity and client commitment from storyboards, and greater insight into the learners’ needs and desired experience.

There are many excuses given for not storyboarding an e-learning program. Among these are notions that it overcomplicates things for the SMEs and stakeholders, that it is a waste of precious development time, that it doesn’t actually work to resolve the back and forth that will come downstream on composing (when changes become more expensive!) and that the lack of a standard approach to storyboarding e-learning could just aggravate confused SMEs and project owners. I’ve heard some e-learning strategists indicate, dogmatically, that “it just isn’t practiced in our shop), and others indicate that they don’t have experience with it and so don’t want to appear as fools. For the elite among us, I’ve caught a whiff of the “yeah, but it’s so linear, and we want our courseware to be more organic/to better meet learner needs/etc.” sentiment. (Hey, I’m a cheerleader for the movement to eliminate the “click next” linear approach to e-learning, and will try to write something about our experience with learning diagnostics and pre-program knowledge assessment to that end. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!)

Regardless of your excuse, motivation is the issue. When you (and I) come to believe that we will get more benefit from storyboarding (e.g., less back and forth at composing) than the alternative, then we will embrace the practice. We will further be enabled when appropriate and easy-to-use tools are made available to do this work.

After all, it’s not difficult from a content perspective to storyboard. We are essentially laying out our screens, slides, interactives and videos – in a Word document. They reflect, typically, a 1:1 correspondence from the content perspective with the final product. We string a series of boards together to provide a preview of the finished flow. We provide space for approvals and revisions by the SMEs / project owners.

A good storyboard includes the following information per screen (or interactivity, depending on the level of detail):

  • A number in the numbering scheme for the storyboard set
  • A representation of the screen itself (sometimes a sketch)
  • On-screen text
  • Audio narrative
  • Explanation of interactives, transitions, etc
  • Branching and navigation guidance
  • Learning outcomes addressed or contributed to by the screen

Storyboarding actually can nail down the content with precision, and deliberately does so in the absence of design distractions. This can be especially important for developing quizzes/tests of application, where you want to be sure you’ve got things right and your reference to the original material is correct. (It can also help because it allows contemplated development of quiz supports/hints/tips) When using an appropriate template, the practice creates familiarity and comfort for SMEs. It clearly supports the “implementers” (designers and developers/coders). And storyboarding is a great way to portray flow – and isolate flow problems – early, rather than later, in the project.

One of the common challenges of storyboarding is version control. Storyboard authors must be fanatical about version control. These days, I find it a great convenience to share storyboards through Google Docs (or via Microsoft Word cloud app) to facilitate common access amongst what is usually a group of stakeholders all of whom want a crack at editing. You get the support of versioning in some of these platforms, which allows you to roll back should you need to do so. Some efforts towards creating an online storyboarding tool have begun – check out Storyboard That (www.storyboardthat.com), which while not tuned for e-learning (from my take), may be of some help in speeding up the storyboarding process.

My confession: I don’t always storyboard each learning program with which I’m involved, and I’m more “addicted” to the thrills of discovery and mind mapping. However, I have found that storyboarding, which unfolds early in the development of an e-learning program, can place development efforts on firm ground, with its emphasis on precise content confirmation and its removal of the “visual layer”. More and more, I’m finding storyboarding an essential element in e-learning program development.

About Author

todd With career stints in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, Todd Kasenberg, Principal of Guiding Star Communications and Consulting, brings years of experience and expertise in group processes, adult learning, online learning and marketing communications to his clients. Todd first dipped his toes into the e-learning pond in 2005, and since has used some of the best available e-learning composing tools, including Raptivity, to delight a number of clients in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Todd’s work has reached and delighted thousands of online learners, in both formal and informal learning contexts. He is an often invited speaker and workshop facilitator, loves to talk apps, mobile learning, and job aids, and is a software entrepreneur.

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Why Pharmaceutical and Healthcare should NOT stick to traditional eLearning?

traditional_learningYes, you read it right. You would always find me advising this to all my healthcare and pharmaceutical customers. You might have a different argument, but read on for my viewpoint and we might reach a common ground.

Not very long back, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies used to invest heavily in classroom training to train people on various business applications like SAP, iREP Veeva systems and process automation tools like Delta V. These systems are generally developed and implemented across any company over a period of few years.

With advancement in technology and processes, companies took to traditional eLearning practices to train resources on these systems. As a part of the traditional eLearning practice at these companies, content development is generally outsourced to eLearning partners due to the volume and complexity of the content. Now, the point in consideration is that since these systems keep evolving over time, their features and training requirements are bound to change too. So, when it comes to training new hires on such systems, change seems like the only constant.  With the frequent changes, the turnaround time for content updates in that case becomes a key challenge. As a result, content becomes obsolete faster as compared to it being developed. This also impacts cost along with timelines.

In this scenario, it makes sense for every healthcare and pharmaceutical company to NOT stick to traditional eLearning anymore. It’s time to move to Adaptive eLearning Design (AED)!

AED involves courses designed in a way that content can be easily, quickly and frequently updated without impacting other related elements. The content change can then be handled even by the companies directly rather than eLearning partners. Harbinger’s AED approach has successfully designed such solutions for many healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. And the results: great ROI

The next obvious question is – what does AED do to create and maintain this constantly evolving eLearning content? For that, stay tuned for my next blog post about AED!