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The antidote to dry content: using storytelling in technical training

I got my new wonderful, shiny oven over a month ago. I really wanted it and I can honestly say it was anything but inexpensive. I still don’t know how to use it though. The booklet is there, I may even have opened it a couple of times but it all just seemed so… technical and dry. I’ll surely get on it as soon as I’ll really need to bake something but until then it will remain a mystery.

I now understand my trainees who over time have rolled their eyes whenever we hit more technical topics. I taught new entries in a big communications company for over six years. There were a lot of programs to go through, a ton of procedures and numerous rules and regulations. The course lasted for four weeks and as anyone could easily figure out could become both tiresome and boring.

It was my job to both get the information in and make it as exciting as I could. I suppose I should now try to make the oven instructions seem exciting.

Storytelling helps with arid content

Where training is concerned, what I found to really be working is using storytelling to spice up the dry content.

Stories are important parts of technical training and personal ones or ones that the learners can relate to are the best. Since before becoming a trainer I used to do the job my trainees were preparing for it was easy to talk about my own experience. As the industry evolved, however, a lot changed and so I had to come up with new examples and anecdotes – spending time in the departments I was training people for proved to be of great help.

Including stories in technical training render the content more relevant and personal as well as making the presentation more interesting and efficient. While improvisation definitely has its bit part in training, it is important to have the stories included in the timeline from the very beginning so as not to run the risk of spending more time on them than on the relevant information.

Read more: How to use stories for workplace learning

Story structure works great for technical topics

Personal stories are great but it’s not really possible to have one for every single situation that ever comes up in training so there are many instances when the trainer has to invent them. In the case of e-learning it is easier because the mechanics of it are predicated on the existence of pre-written scenarios.

Whether the course is online or face to face, the recipe for cooking out a good and relevant story is the same. Technical training is all about how to go about doing something. So it’s about remembering the steps and maybe going through a first-hand simulation.

In most stories there is a character who is in some kind of predicament and takes several steps that either help them solve the situation or generate more situations that eventually get solved. Come to think of it, this fits perfectly to a “in this instance, you push that button and generate that report” course. It should not be too difficult to build a story about how to do something.

Read more: 3 Types of stories that work in training

The anatomy of a good story

Stories need a beginning, a middle and an end, just like training courses or blog articles. It’s important to know what to put into these three parts.

First of all there needs to be some kind of conflict or there can’t be a story. The protagonist needs to face some problem in order to capture learner interest.

Second, there needs to be an attempt to address or solve the issue. It’s all right if there are several failures before success. People learn from mistakes and it’s a lot more fun to do so from somebody else’s mishaps than your own. It’s important, however, to keep in mind the educational point of the story and not make it too long.

Read more: Making mistakes in e-learning: A dream come true

Finally, there needs to be some sort of outcome. It’s best if it is a positive one, as a negative outcome can be a good learning experience but most times trainees need to see that an app or program actually works. The negative version can work, however, when something is being changed – people can see where the issues were and how the new version brings the fixes.

Final thoughts

A lot of times trainers and designers fear that incorporating stories into technical training may be weird or inappropriate. Storytelling is aimed at connecting people emotionally with the subject. Adult learners may not respond well to being emotionally manipulated. They tend to be naturally set in their ways and not particularly eager to change. With the proper motivation, however, they can be persuaded to move mountains and stories have the gift to do just that – engage and motivate.

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