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HIGH-IMPACT E-LEARNING: Tell a People Story by John Morley

05/06/2012 5:44 PM | Deleted user


Movies are typically about a hero and a problem. The setting may be war, Wall Street, or the 1950s in the South, but the story is about people. By focusing on a story about individuals an interesting thing happens: Not only is the audience much more involved, the film's statement about the setting or situation is made more powerful.

Bull Durham has been called the best picture ever made about baseball. It is really a love story, baseball only provided the backdrop and sub-plots. This open secret for engaging an audience, known to all successful screenwriters, can also be applied to e-learning: focus on the impact for one or two people. Give your learners a way to relate to your content.

Make It A Story About People, Not About Techniques

Rather than giving a demonstration about management techniques, show how an employee and her supervisor resolve a problem. Rather than offering product training that lists features and specifications, show how a product or service changed an individual's life. While showing how it's done, show an individual who benefits, while contributing to the benefit of others.

Singling out a person to demonstrate universal truths is a technique pre-dating written language, and is still more potent than any amount of special effects and snazzy graphics. Though a dramatization is the obvious format for people stories, any format can be enhanced through demonstrating how your message affects people. Interviews are more effective if the questions center on personal experience or add insight into someone else's experiences undefined rather than depending on opinion or abstract facts.

Even in a straight voice-over, with no specific reference to the personalities on the screen, a picture story can show specific individuals in a story that applies the ideas or techniques you discuss.

Example: For sales training on a national court-reporting network, we opened with a lawyer fielding several problems over the phone. During the show, the narrator explained all of the network's benefits, while the visual demonstrated how those benefits solved all of the lawyer's problems that were introduced in the opening. Sparse use of sound bites from telephone conversations increased the sense of urgency, introduced a touch of reality, and filled in the details we couldn't demonstrate visually. More than a parade of features and benefits, the e-learning became a story of a person solving previously insurmountable problems.

Give Them Someone They Care About

Content can be broken out into separate e-learning segments. Vignettes can alternate with commentary on what was just dramatized, or establish the problem that your product or service can solve. The critical thing is to give your audience someone with whom they can identify. One specific example, that's emotionally involving, has more power than any amount of reasoned analysis.


John Morley is the author of Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos, and an instructional designer working with Kaiser Permanente. He can be reached at John@OriginalVision.com.

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