Monday, July 13, 2009

Guideline for Working with a Group's Stories - Part 9 of 9

9. Build in more room for story sharing when designing learning

Time to retire heavily scripted courses. Facilitating experiential learning with stories is not for the faint of heart. It requires guts, courage, authenticity, and an ability to think on your feet. Here’s the secret: once you become accustomed to being in less control and collaborating with a group the richer and more significant the learning will be. We must be willing to surrender a certain amount of our positional power to be effective. Chuck Hodell, (2000) in his book, ISD From the Ground Up, makes this point in a subtle way by saying, “The better the course goes, the less chance there is that anyone will appreciate the effort that went into it” (p. 185). If you make stories a core part of your experiential learning strategy during an event though, you will be wiped out. As we discussed earlier in the chapter stories require active listening and this make them exhausting as well as exhilarating. Stories are the most effective when used as a tool to facilitate participant collaboration.

Even very technical topics or regulatory forms of learning can benefit from building in time for knowledge sharing through stories. Of course topics that are softer in nature require lots of time and space for stories. As we have become more and more harried in our daily lives we have lost the art of conversation. Good conversations are full of stories. When we design learning, less will always be more. I use other forms of instruction to give people variety and a break from the intense, reflective nature of dialogue through stories. Group dialogue saturated with stories needs to be at the heart of experiential learning. Even when we create event-driven experiences for people in learning, we are in essence giving them new stories to reflect on. In this way stories are effective because they help us enact our intentions and thoughts rather than announce them. More traditional forms of instructional design are focused on instructing and telling us what we need to know. Stories always lead by offering examples and an endless playground for our imaginations to unearth new treasures.

As a general guideline if you have not developed the course and there is very little room in the material for deviations or discussion, spend a few minutes at the beginning of the day of a multi-day session, after breaks, at the end of a learning module or any place where debriefs or questions have been built into the course, to share and elicit stories from the group. When facilitating other people’s course materials I have been known to give people a break from didactic lecturing by giving folks some quiet time to digest the material on their own. This is followed by a quick recapitulation and an opportunity for people to ask questions. This usually gives me a few minutes to query the group for experiences and stories relevant to the material just read. Admittedly, some courses will not lend themselves to the use of stories. Or they may require you as facilitator to pinpoint spots in the courses and fine tune the stories you tell. Remember if you tell a story and there is not enough time for people to respond with their stories, whatever story you tell will be best served by a self-less attitude. Your story should not be about impressing others or driving a simple point home. Your story needs to be rich enough that it is evoking people’s experiences. Ideally you want to be able to process this with folks but if there is not enough time just be sure your story is rich enough to cause people to reflect and synthesize their experiences in new ways.

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