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Storyline Seven ways in which stories power learning 00 Standfirst Clive Shepherd I

’d never written a film script before. The nearest I’d got to so-called creative writing was penning the dialogue for interactive scenarios, so this was a brave move. To be honest, I was pushed hard by my colleague Asatuurs Keim, a film- maker with a passion for storytelling and someone who believes we have failed to realise the full potential of film as a vehicle for learning at work. Now I was only ever proposing a really short film, but I was encouraged by Asatuurs to use the classic script structure: n Setup: Establishes the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in. As the plot unfurls, the protagonist is confronted with a dramatic problem to resolve.

n Confrontation: The protagonist attempts to resolve the problem, only to find him/herself in ever worsening situations.

n Resolution: The main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are. I’m sure experienced writers don’t approach their task in such a formal manner, but for a beginner like me this structure proved invaluable. Although my principal goal was to provide insights into the value of end-to-end learning solutions, I also needed the storyline to be engaging and to demonstrate the power of storytelling as a tool for learning. Here are seven ways in which I believe that

stories power learning:

1. Stories speak to us as humans As Jeremy Hsu writes in Scientific American, ‘Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history.’ For more than 27,000 years, humans have been communicating by telling stories. I’m sure that if you were to open up our brains and tip the contents onto the floor, what would come out but piles and piles of stories. According to a 1997 study


by Robin Dunbar (at the time at the University of Liverpool), personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations. That seems like an underestimate to me.

2. Stories hold our attention Stories with characters to whom we can relate will attract and hold our attention. If you don’t believe that ‘people nowadays’ can maintain attention on anything for longer than a few minutes then you’d be wide of the mark. It’s true that we want our information to come in the smallest possible chunks, but we’ll happily spend hours wading through a box set or turning the pages of a great novel.

3. Stories engage us emotionally Emotion can have a powerful impact on memory. Numerous studies have shown that our most vivid memories tend to be of emotional events. And stories are highly effective at triggering emotions. Above all, they make us care and caring matters when it comes to learning.

4. Stories provide examples Stories have another very simple value to a learning experience: they provide us with examples that help us to understand difficult concepts, principles and rules. If you’re struggling to figure out the difference between education and training, a good teacher will tell you that old joke, you know, the one about when your daughter comes home and tells you about the sex education class she attended that day. Fine, but what if she came home and told you about the sex training she’d received?

5. Stories provide insights Insights are what allow us to respond to situations in which we don’t have clear-cut rules to follow, which in the developed world is true of a great deal of the work that we do. You cannot be provided with insights by simple exposition, you have to obtain them for

yourself, by figuring things out. We can do this through our own experience, but also by observing the experiences of others, either directly or through stories. Literal accounts of real or fictitious events may provide us with insights (my short film being an example). On the other hand, stories can use metaphors to position an idea in a context that may be more familiar

to a learner. This is a technique we used for most of the explainer videos that accompany the More Than Blended Learning approach. Learners can readily adapt the lessons embedded in these stories to analogous situations.

6. Stories help us to remember As humans, we can struggle to learn factual information. As Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory, explains in The Guardian: “Whether you wish to learn a set of directions, a recipe, the events during an historical epoch or the members of the cabinet, imposing a story line over what you wish to learn is a wonderfully simple and powerful way of binding the ideas together in a manner that allows easy and enjoyable recollection.”

7. Stories are likely to be shared Because that’s how we relate to other people - by telling them stories. If you want to get your message out there, don’t rely too heavily on rational argument (this column being an example); tell stories instead. Which brings me back to my short film, a story of love and learning. It’s called No Regrets, and you’ll find it in three parts at nicoleknows/, along with some short preview videos in which Nicole, one of the main characters, provides some background to her journey to England to start her new job. Little does she know.

Clive Shepherd is an e-learning consultant

@cliveshepherd e.learning age april 2015

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