Just because some training acts have moved from the classroom to the Internet doesn't mean that storytelling?one of the most potent and time-honored tools in the teaching arsenal?has disappeared.
In fact, for Lisa Neal, it's alive and well. Neal, a senior research engineer for Electronic Data Systems, Lexington, Mass., uses personal stories with strong learning hooks in both the asynchronous and synchronous online training sessions she conducts for EDS software developers.
In the self-paced sessions, Neal streams one- or two-minute audio clips to make salient points in ways that prove more compelling than using, say, yawn-inducing comparative statistics or other raw data. Use of such pre-recorded audio, which Neal narrates and records herself, not only helps break the computer "screen lock" for online learners, but hearing the instructor's voice also adds a personal touch to an impersonal delivery medium.
Online storytelling also helps to engage students where it's easy to feel disconnected from peers or the instructor. "I use the technique as a catalyst for encouraging my students to share their own stories online," says Neal, "experiences that usually hold some lessons for peers. You want them saying, "You think that's a good story, let me tell you about this one."" The sharing helps them feel more like part of a learning community."
Such digitized stories often are based on personal, real-world experiences and consequently, are more engaging than, say, a rehearsed script. And Neal's stories don't have to originate in EDS to be useful. She tells one story, for example, as a lead-in to a training assignment on a self-paced interface design course. While on a business trip, Neal rented a car, and when leaving the parking lot she pulled up to hand a rental form to an employee. The problem was, after searching in all the usual places, she couldn't find a button or crank to open the window and had to open the door and step out. Turns out, the button was tucked away on a control panel between the front seats. "I
used this story as an example of how something as simple as designing a window button can vary enormously," she explains, "and to challenge users? mental models."
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