The title of this entry was inspired by a passage from Craig Wortmann’s terrific book, “What’s Your Story?” It speaks to both how communication has shifted in recent years and the ineffective nature of the way we often attempt to teach.
Just as lengthy memos were replaced by brief emails, which were, in turn, overtaken by IMing and SMS (thanks to increasingly powerful mobile phones/devices), the way we converse and communicate is becoming more and more staccato’d . Increasingly, we are speaking to each other in fragmented facts and bullets instead of descriptive and nuanced narratives. In pursuit of speed, we have traded away “rich/engaging/compelling” for “fast/efficient/familiar”. In many ways, this is a fool’s bargain, and it’s beginning to show.
Q: What is the longest standing, most tried-and-true, and instinctually natural way of passing knowledge from expert to novice?
A: Leave your laptops, Powerpoints, and Blackberries behind… Forget about books, manuals, and job aids… It’s the ancient art of storytelling.
I’m planning to post a series of entries about the power of Story in Instructional Design in the coming weeks/months, but I figured this observation regarding bullet points was a good place to begin the journey. It speaks to the importance of context and the way we process, store, and recall information.
When you tell someone a set of facts and figures, it can make a temporary impact, but it’s usually quickly forgotten as decontextualized white noise. What’s lacking is meaning and relevance to the listener – in order for something to be understood at a deep level and retained for more than a few days (hours?... minutes!?...), there has to be a personal connection made. Something that relates the new information to old, personal, previously understood information. Something that refines, extends, contradicts, augments, or otherwise changes the existing set of cases and rules that exist in the learner’s mind. Without this comparative review and adjustment, any ‘learning’ that may occur will ultimately be fleeting.
So, we need to move away from the expedient habit of disseminating data in meaningless bullets and rediscover the importance of context, which can be created in the form of stories.