Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Good Storytelling Takes Time - So Does Good Learning

This week we are looking at a system known as the Differential.  In my first post I asked that you review 2 training videos.  Around the Corner was created in 1937 and How a Differential Works was created in 2011.  In my last post I looked at the importance of titles, and today I wonder about management concerns that good storytelling is too time consuming and wasting employees time.

Stories take too long!
Both training videos do a good job of explaining the facts of how a differential works.  And to be clear, while I am biased towards liking the 1937 video better, I believe both get the job done.  And that is because I also believe there is more to learning than just watching videos.  More on that in later post.

Around the Corner is 9 minutes and 31 seconds.  How a Differential Works is 4 minutes and 44 seconds. So, if they both get the job done then you might as well just stop reading my stupid blog posts and just pick the shortest good quality videos you can find.  You certainly don't want to waste your employees' time, right?

In Around the corner we don't even get narration until almost 2 MINUTES into the video. GASP!  Can you imagine wasting so much precious training time?  How dare those designers not take our time seriously!!!  The NERVE!!!

I can hear today's Sr. managers and/or project stakeholders telling the instructional designers,
  "ya know, that's nice and all but let's cut down that intro to about 30 SECONDS."  
So, in the 2011 video you get an objective statement and a high level overview of what a differential is in exactly 33 secs.

I don't think anyone will argue that it's much easier to simply state the facts about any process.  And doing so will no doubt take significantly less time than telling the story.  I also don't think anyone believes that reciting facts alone is the best method of delivering content being learned by people.  Human beings respond to their feelings and storytelling impacts feelings.

To most of us watching the 1937 video, the intro is just a bunch of motocycles doing a synchronized circus act.  But to the mostly male trainees of the time these riders were part of the pop culture.  We can simply guess that viewers were engaged and drawn into the movie because of these riders and using their skills to illustrate the basic problem being solved by differential gears.

There are many people blogging about storytelling in learning.  I have not covered it all by any means, but I did recognize the importance of storytelling after watching these videos.  Did you notice anything about storytelling when you viewed them?


anieb said...

This is one of the best posts that I’ve ever seen; you may include some more ideas in the same theme about Elearning Development Software. I’m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post.

Jon Revelos said...

Great series of posts, Brent.. it *is* interesting to see how the same topic was treated similarly/differently 75 years apart. Some of the differences were technical (video vs. 3D modeling) and others cultural (synchro motorcycles vs. pickup trucks) but I think you've hit upon an interesting (and often overlooked) aspect of the effectiveness of both - story.

While both were effective in their achievement of their shared objective, I, too, found myself drawn towards the 1937 example more. I think it was because it took more time to develop the 'conflict' (a critical part of a good story - the hero has a problem they must overcome) and the ebb/flow of the solutions towards final resolution. It's easy enough to say that wheels turn at different rates when cornering and having a fixed axle presents a problem (which is pretty much what the 2011 video did) and require the learner to accept that claim more-or-less on faith. The problem is that taking that instructional route prevents the learner from 'owning' the problem and personalizing the truth of the claim for themselves. This "I believe because *I* 'see' the problem, not because some authority told me" is an important part of effective training that persists over time. The 1937 approach took us, step-by-step, through the evolution of the problem and a variety of increasingly effective design improvements to create a solution - it told a series of stories/scenarios that illuminated the shortcomings of each early solution that helped the learner embrace the issues and the design strengths/weaknesses.

Yes, the 2011 version was shorter and 'cut to the chase' while also covering the additional topics of how modern technology has helped overcome the 'path of least resistance' issue of the classic differential, but I'd argue that if the goal was to have someone be able to retain and recall the core 'gist' of what a big deal the differential is and how it works, the 1937 video works best.

(I wonder if I'd watched them in opposite order (2011 first), how my feelings would change? You cannot put the cognitive genie back in the bottle, but I suspect that I wouldn't have as solid of a grasp of the 'how' of a differential's operation if I'd only watched the 2011 version. It breezed by the 'spoke' concepts that were central in the 1937 version.)

Keep up the good work in 2012!