Hooking learners with a simple story

Instead of just starting an e-learning course with a dry-as-sand list of objectives, I like to start with a “teaser” scenario. A teaser is designed to hook the user and give them a bit of motivation for taking the course.

Recently I have been working on a WBT about the A3 problem solving process and report writing (made famous by the process gurus at Toyota). The approach is very effective, yet amazingly simple: You follow a certain problem-solving process and, regardless of the complexity of the project, you write the report on a single A3 sized (11″ x 17″ piece of paper). The purpose of the WBT is to introduce people to the approach, which is becoming the company-wide standard at the client company.

Check out my A3 report writing teaser below. Click the Slideshare navigation arrows to go through the screens.

In this case, I wanted to give a sense of fun and simplicity to the subject matter. Hopefully people taking the course can relate to or hope to avoid the pain experienced by the charachter Joe and therefore want to take the lessons. So, the implicit objective is that in taking this course, you will avoid writing crappy, ineffective reports and, instead, create reports that your audience (e.g., your boss!) will understand and use.

Another thing I like about teaser scenarios like this one, is that it sets the groundwork for fun interactions later on. For example, the story can be continued with multiple choice questions and examples.

Following the teaser in my A3 course, users can select from several lessons. Joe appears throughout the course, sharing his lessons learned with the viewer. The viewer is able to help Joe make decisions via short vignettes and branching scenarios. When the learner makes a mistake, Athena (the Problem-Solving super hero) appears, sharing best practices for good report writing. Athena also shows up on summary screens between steps.

So what do you think? The audience is probably a bit like you. Most are smart folks and most have not heard of this approach to problem solving. Does an introductory story/scenario like this make you more likely to be interested? Or is it too goofy? I would also love to hear about any other low budget ideas for hooking learners up front.


17 Responses to Hooking learners with a simple story

  1. […] describes why he uses a short story to motivate learners with a “teaser” scenario. He shows his scenario and asks, “Does a introductory story/scenario like this make you more likely to be […]

  2. Robin Petterd says:

    I think this is great.

    Maybe the only things is about a third of the way thru I know what the outcome of the story is going to be.

    Your question about being “goofy” is interesting. I’ve often used “goofy” fictional characters partly because the stories are combination of other people’s stories. Some of the feedback on the Australian Flexible Learning Toolboxes has been that learner’s prefer “real” people and real stories. What is maybe a balance between to the two is really rich believable characters. What I thinking about is the types of character and stories that we experience in some of the story drive games

  3. Hermann Green says:

    This is totally cool. Easy to do and effective.

  4. Andrea Mitchell says:

    A little goofiness can be a good thing. Up until the end the goofy-factor was held in check by what I consider to be an unexpected and good design idea: superimposing Joe onto realistic photographic backgrounds. The last slide was the undoing in my opinion. The superheroine was just too serious — lacking in irony, which is what I would’ve preferred. Others may have loved it…

    I do like idea of referring back to the “hook” at later points in the learning.

  5. Dave Johnsen says:

    I think this works, at least I use it regularly, especially the follow on.

    The clinicians I work with are very concrete, and this makes them think of a generic patient with actual problems. It gets them out of applying their specific concerns to a patient, but lets them see the big picture.


  6. Joe Deegan says:

    I think this is a great way to lay out the objectives for a course. I have always been an advocate of story telling and I particularly like how you told the story in your slides. The characters and other images make the training more interesting and should be effective at hooking the user into wanting more. Great creativity.

  7. Kevin Shadix says:

    Hi Robin – Interesting point about the Australian Flexible Learning. Would you happen to have any links to that that you can provide? In my example here, “Joe” is based on a real story. And the experience his audience had in dealing with a cumbersome report is experienced by a lot of people in my audience. So although Joe is an illustration, his situation is real. I think that still supports the Australian feedback.

    Andrea — glad you liked the “cartoon” joe combined with a photographic background. And good point about the superheroine. Probably worth making a change in tone there. At least for that one scene.
    Hermann – thanks! Easy and effective is good (and cost effective!).

    Dave — my audience (managers in a manufacturing company) can be concrete, too. I think stories can be great for getting away from specific, personal concerns, while at same time connecting with the charachter’s situation in a way that motivates them to learn. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Robin Petterd says:

    I think it’s in the report at http://toolboxes.flexiblelearning.net.au/documents/reports.htm#r19 … the link is going the wrong report at the moment.

    It’s interesting that I thought “Joe” was fictional story.

  9. Rupa says:

    Hi Kevin,

    It is really nice of you to share this information with lot other instructional designers like me.

    Courses that begin with stories do make a positive impact. When you begin a course with a story, you make it relevant to the learner. The learner immediately understands the importance of the course and gets interested in the course.

    The right word for this probably is Attention Grabber. I think Attention Grabbers are a must for e-learning courses.

    I have written a short post on attention grabbers here: http://writersgateway.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/grabbing-the-learners-attention-learning-from-gagne/

    Thanks for the nice post.

  10. Kevin,

    Outstanding post on how to get learners engaged quickly. This is not goofy at all. I loved the look and feel of your story. It really draws the learner in quickly. You have excellent storytelling elements. In fact, your slides have a lot of ingredients that the Heath brothers would say makes your intro “sticky”. I put your suggestions to use immediately in a course that I am designing on Basic Interviewing Skills. This is the kind of blog post that makes a real difference in my work. Thanks for taking the time to share, Kevin.

    John Zurovchak

  11. […] Your E-Learning Posted on August 23, 2008 by Rupa I just read an interesting post titled: Hooking learners with a simple story by Kevin. I appreciate that he has shared some good examples to show how you can start a course […]

  12. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Kevin!

    Starting with a story is an oldie but goodie. People like stories, especially personal ones. What’s wrong with that?

    More than just a dash of VISUAL. I see what you’re saying. Most people need to see it and can relate to the visual (what was the line? A picture is word a worthy . . . ? . . . something like that 🙂 ).

    Identify the real problem? I like a bit of realism. I guess you mean as opposed to not identifying the problem at all, or creating a new fantasy problem 😉

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  13. Kevin Shadix says:

    John — Thanks for the “sticky” compliment! “Made to Stick” is a great book. Actually, I need to read the last third of it. I put it down for some reason or other and never found the time to finish it. Anyway, glad to know that my suggestion was helpful. I’d love to see an example of your work, if you’re able to share.

    Rupa – “Attention grabber” is a good name for it, and definitely more formally recognized. In fact, I added to the tag list. Thanks for adding the link. I’ve read some of your blog before and enjoy it. To me, providing actual examples or stories of our real working lives is a great way to share and learn from each other. Theory only goes so far.

    Ken – Yup…by “real” problem, I intended a dose of realism that learners could relate to. Mostly I get annoyed when training examples are always positive and happy. I actually had an HR type once tell me that we shouldn’t give negative examples because they might imply that the company has incompetent employees. Good grief!!

  14. […] over. So, here are a few digital ideas for the classroom we could use to have a grand beginning: Kevin Shadix suggests hooking learners with simple stories. To do that, for example, you could use Slideshare […]

  15. noah little says:

    I love stories, they make problems relevant. And a good story wrapped around a pertinent problem can become a real “page-turner”, like a good mystery novel.

  16. […] just read an interesting post titled: Hooking learners with a simple story by Kevin. I appreciate that he has shared some good examples to show how you can start a course […]

  17. Jennette says:

    This is really good; I’m a student of Instructional Design. My current topic of learning is the cognitive information processing theory. What you are doing with your story telling is adding the element of sensory the people taking the course will have the ability to imagine themselves in the situation therefore increasing the retention of the subject they are learning. Thanks for sharing.

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