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The Art Of Impactful Storytelling: Engaging Learners Through Timeless Narrative Models

Training With Storytelling: 3 Timeless Narrative Models
Summary: Since ancient times, stories have been used to convey lessons, norms, and practical wisdom. Even in today’s information-saturated world, storytelling remains one of the most effective means of human communication and learning. Here's how to apply it in employee training using three narrative models.

Training Through Storytelling: Ignite Engagement With Epic Learning Journeys

Storytelling is a powerful tool for conveying information and facilitating learning. When designing education and training programs, using storytelling techniques can increase learner engagement, comprehension, and retention. Structuring training content around proven storytelling frameworks provides a template for impactful learning.

Within education and training programs, tapping into the inherent power of narrative provides a robust framework for truly engaging learner journeys. Developing content around research-backed storytelling models allows educators to facilitate deep comprehension and long-term retention of key concepts. In particular, three timeless frameworks have become pillars of modern Instructional Design: David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Skillfully applying these narrative models creates resonating learning experiences that enlighten minds and empower personal growth.

David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle draws from the repetitive nature of traditional stories. Benjamin Bloom builds skills development through ascending levels mirrored in coming-of-age tales. Lastly, Joseph Campbell unearthed the universal Hero’s Journey by analyzing common plot points across myths worldwide. Skillfully weaving these ancient patterns into modern training sets learners forth on resonant odysseys.

Curious to learn how these storytelling structures can elevate your training programs? Read on as we break down the validated sequencing behind each model and why it ignites meaningful learning.

Engaging Learners Through Impactful Storytelling

Stories captivate our attention, inspire imagination, and imprint lessons into memory. Well-crafted tales using compelling characters, dramatic tension, and meaningful resolution spark our innate joy of gathering around the proverbial campfire. In contrast, dry facts and lecturing often fail to penetrate our consciousness—let alone spur personal growth.

Mandatory employee compliance training typically consists of basic slide presentations delivering policies and procedures. Without a storyline or conversation, our engagement relies solely on duty and discipline rather than genuine interest. Consequently, retention plummets to dismally low levels shortly after reading or viewing.

Storytelling flips the script from a dull delivery to a dynamic journey. By rooting information in a narrative context featuring relatable protagonists and antagonists, we become invested in the outcome with our perspective mentors along the way. This (re)learning through surrogate experience allows key principles to become embedded in our professional practice. Within education and training programs, the power of a strong narrative provides a robust framework for truly engaging learner journeys.

Turning Ancient Tales Into Modern Training Models: 3 Storytelling Structures For Employee Training

Storytelling has forever been integral across cultures as a vehicle for sharing wisdom. Several enduring narrative frameworks have become anchors in modern instructional methodology. These models provide research-backed sequencing to facilitate comprehension and transformative learning. By incorporating elements of ancient folktales and myths within the flow of training content, educators can use the power of stories that stick with us across lifetimes.

Let's trace how three timeless story structures can elevate your corporate training programs.

1. David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb’s Learning Cycle [1] aligns with the iterative progression of having an experience, reflecting, conceptualizing, and actively experimenting. Following these distinct stages allows learners to cement lessons through an arc of doing, thinking, understanding, and applying.

David A. Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle is a great tool for crafting corporate training content. It's based on four stages:

  1. Concrete Experience
    Start by offering a hands-on experience or a real-world scenario that employees can relate to. It could be a case study, simulation, or practical exercise that engages them directly.
  2. Reflective Observation
    Encourage participants to reflect on their experience. Ask questions like "What happened?" or "What did you learn?" This step helps them analyze and understand the experience better.
  3. Abstract Conceptualization
    Now, help them make connections. Introduce theories, models, or concepts that relate to their experience. Explain how these ideas apply to the real-world situation they encountered.
  4. Active Experimentation
    Finally, encourage them to apply what they've learned. Provide opportunities for them to practice their new knowledge or skills in their work environment.

In traditional stories, especially epic tales and myths, the protagonist goes through an iterative journey beset by trials they must overcome. They face tests of some kind, learn and adapt, and then face escalating challenges applying their new wisdom. This mirrors the cyclical progression in Kolb's model:

  1. Concrete Experience > Have an experience
  2. Reflective Observation > Review and reflect
  3. Abstract Conceptualization > Learn and form ideas
  4. Active Experimentation > Apply knowledge with increasingly difficult tests

So the repetitive cycle of traditional storytelling—heroes battling ever more difficult forces after assimilating previous lessons—aligns closely with Kolb's experiential learning cycle. Learners go through analogous cycles, facing practical scenarios, distilling observations, understanding principles to apply, and then testing their mettle through higher-stakes experimentation of their evolving grasp of the subject matter.

Using Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle In Corporate Training

A customer service rep training program could guide learners through the progression of:

  • Shadowing customer calls to directly observe conversations (Concrete Experience).
  • Journaling about effective and ineffective approaches noticed (Reflective Observation).
  • Discussing in groups to extract key principles of positive dialogue (Abstract Conceptualization).
  • Roleplaying new calls implementing learned best practices (Active Experimentation).

2. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy lays out competencies from basic knowledge up through evaluation. By organizing objectives and activities to align with ascending levels of cognition, educators can methodically develop higher-order skills.

"The [original] framework elaborated by Bloom and his collaborators consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as 'skills and abilities,' with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice." Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

There is a 2001 revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy (A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment) [2]. The authors of the revised taxonomy underscore dynamism, using "action words" to label their categories and subcategories. The revised version is a framework used to classify educational objectives into different levels of complexity. Here's how it can be used in corporate training content creation:

  1. Remember
    Start by introducing basic facts, concepts, or terms relevant to the training topic. This could involve presenting information through presentations, handouts, or online modules.
  2. Understand
    Encourage employees to comprehend the information provided. Use examples, explanations, or case studies that help them grasp the material beyond memorization.
  3. Apply
    Move beyond comprehension and ask employees to apply their knowledge in practical scenarios or exercises. This could involve problem-solving tasks or simulations related to their work.
  4. Analyze
    Encourage employees to break down information, identify patterns, or assess the components of a concept. This might involve comparing different strategies or evaluating the effectiveness of certain approaches.
  5. Evaluate
    Foster critical thinking by asking employees to assess the value or importance of concepts, theories, or strategies within their work context. They could justify their choices or decisions based on learned principles.
  6. Create
    Lastly, encourage employees to create something new based on what they've learned. This could be designing a new process, proposing a solution to a work-related problem, or developing innovative strategies.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy In Corporate Training

Based on the concept defined by Bloom, a leadership development program could structure content and activities along ascending levels of learning:

  • Recognize different leadership style behaviors (Remember).
  • Explain the situational impacts of directing vs. delegating (Understand).
  • Demonstrate adaptive leadership in group role-plays (Apply).
  • Assess scenarios to choose optimal strategies (Analyze).
  • Evaluate effectiveness tracking project and team metrics pre/post training (Evaluate).
  • Compile a personalized leadership development plan (Create).

3. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

Campbell’s Hero’s Journey [3] analyzes the standard path of mythological heroes. Applying this narrative structure to learning content taps into the intuitive power of following a character through a transformative odyssey. Learners embark on their own adventure of overcoming trials and seizing revelation. Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey is a powerful storytelling framework that can be applied to corporate training content creation:

  1. The Ordinary World
    Start by introducing the employee's familiar work environment or routine. This is where they're comfortable but might face challenges.
  2. Call To Adventure
    Present a challenge or opportunity for growth. This could be a new project, skill development, or a change in responsibilities.
  3. Refusal Of the Call
    Initially, there might be hesitation or resistance from the employee due to the unknown or the perceived difficulty.
  4. Meeting The Mentor
    Introduce guidance or training resources—mentors, workshops, or materials—to support the employee through this challenge.
  5. Crossing The Threshold
    The employee takes the plunge, embracing the challenge or learning opportunity despite initial concerns.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
    Along the way, there are learning experiences, support from colleagues (allies), and obstacles to overcome (enemies).
  7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
    This is the culmination, where the employee faces the central challenge or learning objective head-on.
  8. The Ordeal
    The employee confronts the most significant challenge or learning hurdle.
  9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
    After overcoming the challenge, the employee gains new skills, knowledge, or growth.
  10. The Road Back
    They return to their work environment, equipped with newfound abilities and perspectives.
  11. Resurrection
    This experience transforms the employees, making them better equipped for future challenges.
  12. Return With The Elixir
    Finally, the employee brings back valuable lessons or solutions that benefit their work and team.

Using Campbell’s Hero’s Journey In Corporate Training

A new employee onboarding simulation could cast learners as the hero on a journey including:

  • The "call to adventure" when receiving a job offer.
  • Navigating unknown processes and software systems as a symbolic forest.
  • Meeting other "supporting characters" including trainers, mentors, and teammates.
  • Facing trials through tough customer issues or rejections.
  • Achieving success in winning deals or impressing stakeholders.
  • Returning with gifts/powers of confidence and relationships.

This scaffolds the onboarding journey to mirror the validation and transformation arcs underpinning heroic tales.

Narrative Wisdom To Advance Modern Learning Journeys

Using timeless storytelling structures within education and training programs awakens our natural thirst for meaningful journeys packed with insight. Key lessons for learning architects to carry forth include:

  • Lead learners through Kolb’s cycle from concrete experiences through active application to embed lessons intrinsically.
  • Carefully traverse Bloom’s ascending levels to deliberately build higher-order cognitive skills over time.
  • Infuse training content with Campbell's universal arc to transform instruction into an inspiring adventure.

Applying these enduring narrative frameworks breathes new life into training programs. Much like traditions of sharing wisdom through stories, we can create impactful learning journeys that spread knowledge to better our shared future. Let these models guide your creative journey in elevating modern minds.


[1] Kolb’s Learning Styles And Experiential Learning Cycle

[2] Revised Bloom's Taxonomy

[3] Writing 101: What Is the Hero’s Journey?

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