Using Stories to Engage Learners

One of my latest projects  was a series of sales training modules for a fortune 100 company.  Here is my personal 'project plan' that I created to guide me through the development:

1.  COMPELLING CHARACTERS: 

At the beginning of each course, I introduce characters that are engaging, memorable and resonate with the audience. These heroes and heroines make learners want to root for them.  Each of the main characters in my modules face challenges and obstacles in reaching their goals.   Interesting characters set the stage for an engaging course by keeping learners intrigued with the ‘story’.

 2.  SCENARIOS THAT ALL SALES REPS CAN RELATE TO - 

Each course began with a scenario of the wrong way to do something, and ended, ultimately- after much learning, with the right way to handle that situation.

Since these courses were developed for sales reps in different divisions selling various solutions, it was important that I feature situations that were not specific to one group and risk alienating others.  So, I created scenarios that all sales reps could identify with, regardless of their work group.  

I used simple everyday life scenarios (like meeting a financial planner or real estate agent) that would enable learners to focus on the concepts of the skills and not get side-tracked by the details of the examples.  

 3.  CREATE A CONTEXT THAT MIRRORS THE CULTURE:  

To ensure learners knew that the content was developed specifically for their international organization, I incorporated a graphically appealing and relevant context that included  characters from various cultures.

4.  THE LEARNING HAPPENS AFTER THE MISTAKES ARE MAKE AND THE   HERO/HEROINE IS TRYING TOFIGURE OUT A WAY TO SUCCEED.

In the beginning of each module, the main character experiences a ‘bad case scenario’ - one in which someone doesn’t have the skills needed to be successful. The key learning always takes place in the climax of the story – when the hero has faced obstacles and needs the knowledge/information to turn things around.

After seeing the results of NOT performing well, the characters are open and anxious to learn new skills that will improve their results.   The key knowledge/learnings are presented in this part of the course – while learners are engaged and rooting for the character to succeed. By showing learners concepts in action, as opposed to reading about them or hearing a narration about them, the information is conveyed much more quickly and the learner is more likely to retain it. 

5.  REINFORCE THE NEW SKILLS/BEHAVIORS THROUGH SIMPLE INTERACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES:

As learners see the new skills implemented by the characters in the story, they are asked to participate in activities that solidify their own learnings.

6.  HAPPY ENDINGS MAKE FOR  MEMORABLE TRAINING:

As the characters implement their new knowledge and change their behaviors, their results and outcomes dramatically improve – reinforcing to learners “what’s in it for them” to gain these skills. In each module, the end of the training includes a ‘redo’ of the opening scenario – and this time, the hero/heroine has the skills that they need to overcome the obstacles and deliver results.

Having a ‘moral to the story’ and a happy ending also ensures that the learning is a motivating and memorable experience. **Learners retain more from training that they enjoy.