Not all stories for learning are successful in engaging learners. Stories that are just there to be entertaining without being relevant can waste people’s time and annoy them. It might be entertaining to add a Mission: Impossible or wild west bank robbery theme to your corporate training, but is that the best way to engage your learners? In most cases, I don’t think it’s effective to add something totally unrelated to the content itself. In fact, it can backfire, as some companies have learned.
Let’s take the example of employee onboarding training. You could set up a story about an adventure on a remote island, where you explore different areas of the island to find information about your company. You could have flashy animation and professional voice actors, but this probably isn’t the best setup for a training.
Not all stories for training are created equal. Relevant context is critical. I think it would be more interesting to show the journey of a new employee in the company. If you create a completely fake context for learning, you might actually reduce the transfer to the job. In general, the more realistic the context for practice, the easier it is to transfer those skills to your real job.
I also hate sending learners the unspoken message that “your job is so boring that the only way we can get you to learn about it is with a silly story about a remote island.” No one intentionally sends that message, of course, but that can be the result.
You could exaggerate a bit for humor or drama, depending on the culture, as long as the main plot within the context of the job. I once saw a great onboarding with intros to the team roles as sort of super versions of themselves. The multimedia developer had super powers of visual design; the project manager could juggle 10 projects at once. It was exaggerated and lighthearted, but it also emphasized the relevant parts of each role. It’s a tricky balance, and it depends a lot on the company culture. Sometimes companies are less open to that kind of playfulness.
Some tips for relevant stories:
- Identifiable Characters: Learners should be able to identify with the characters in the story, especially the protagonist. The main character making decisions should be similar to the learners, both in role and in other characteristics if possible.
- Obstacles: The obstacles the protagonist faces should be realistic and relevant.
- Decisions: If there’s a simulation, the decisions learners make should be the kinds of decisions you want them to practice.
- Distractors: The distractors should be plausible errors, ideally common errors.
- Consequences: The consequences for decisions should be realistic (if a wrong choice would result in the customer getting angry, show that).
If you’re faced with the choice between an entertaining story that doesn’t directly connect to your learners’ jobs and a relevant story that emphasizes their actual day-to-day work, opt for relevancy. Don’t strand your learners on a remote island.