Monday, February 27, 2017

Learning Objectives are Dead Unless You Do CPR - Tip #122

Learning objectives are good as basis for defining what we want to impart to learners.

Unfortunately, when we stop there, learners find the learning objectives senseless and as a result, disengage and/or skip the objectives altogether.

A Linear Structure Kills Learning Objectives

A typical course — its objectives, content and context as well as the type of lessons in this course follow a linear structure, which is common in traditional learning designs.

Below is an illustration of the difference in learning objectives between the traditional objectives and Story Questions:
The topic is Avoiding Burglary in your store. The target learners are Retail Store Managers.

Traditional learning objectives are factual statements; they’re bland and frankly boring. On the other hand, story questions provide learners with clearer images and reference points. They stimulate the mind and attract learners’ attention unconsciously and instantaneously.

Breathe Life Into “Dead” Learning Objectives

In my years of experience using stories to deliver lessons, I’ve found that there are a number of effective ways to revive learning objectives. Here are some of them:

The Set Up

The Set Up is a story-based learning objective which helps learners arrive at a State of Readiness. That is, the objective gives learners a glimpse or peek at what lies ahead. It answers the question “What can I look forward to in this lesson?” and helps learners imagine content goals in real-life situations.

To help learners get into their state of readiness, try the following approaches:
  • Show a challenging scene from the story
  • Ask story questions to help learners visualize possible consequences

Focus on context
Story-based learning objectives are driven by context, which they quickly turn into contextual form. They aid learners visualize the value of the context in real-life content.

Use the table above to guide you through the specific steps you can follow to help you convert your content into highly contextualized learning objectives.

Use probing questions

A simple way to spice up learning objectives is to convert them into story questions. Story questions point learners to a vivid picture of the content in the context of a real-life event or story.

A trick on how to do this is to get “behind the scenes” and dig up the story driving the factual statements. There’s always a story behind every factual statement. Keep digging!

Embed learning objectives in stories

Speaking of stories, why not try embedding learning objectives in a story-based lesson? This will allow you to follow through or continue using the story to deliver the rest of the lesson. Plus, this method is more exciting, don’t you think?

There are four steps to embed learning goals in stories. These are as follows:
  1. Think of learning objectives as outcomes and as observable behaviors.
  2. Think deeply of the patterns of behaviors and the stories associated with them.
  3. Tell the story that helps learners identify and discover what you want them to learn.
  4. Show the actions and use first-person words of characters.

Objectives as discovery points

This tip helps make learning objectives less intrusive to learners. To achieve this, we have to help learners see the value of the lesson by focusing on the impacts.

Try transforming learning objectives into discovery points, which are topic areas that learners are interested in at one point in time. Infuse/attach positive or negative consequences to learning objectives. For example:

Version 1: Understanding Manager Responsibilities in Safety Violations

Version 2: Be a Manager, Go to Jail Law

I actually did an experiment on these two versions way back. We used the first version to promote my seminars and around 150 registered and attended. But when we used version 2 in our next round of promotions, we received a whopping 500 participants in each location. Amazing!

Relocate traditional learning objectives
Try relocating learning objectives at the top as shown in the image above. This way, you comply with HR requirements and at the same time, provide learners with the option to view it at their leisure.


Just as sailors need lighthouses to guide their ships at night, trainers and learners need learning objectives to navigate the deep and wide ocean of training and development.

Learning objectives form the base or foundation for program content and activities and how these are sequenced or divided. So it’s important to create learning objectives that help both trainer and learners focus on what really is important.


Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University. Learning Objectives
Ray Jimenez. Learners are in a State of Readiness - Avoid Rigid Learning Objectives. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 12, 2011
Ray Jimenez. How to Embed Learning Goals in Stories. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 11, 2010

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stories of Real-Life Fiascos and Blunders Motivate Learners - Tip #121

Have you ever tried teaching a new employee how to use the software your company currently uses? Did you find it easy to teach or were there challenges you encountered?

Now, think about training employees about your branding or corporate identity? Was this easier or harder than teaching them how to use the software?

Most content discourage learners because the concept is too foreign. Or they may think it’s not applicable. Sometimes, they simply can’t associate any meaning with your training content.

The challenge then is how to make learning ideas concrete.

Why Stories?

By relating abstract ideas to familiar events, stories go beyond educating and engaging learners logically. They also inspire and motivate learners by involving them emotionally.

By letting learners see both the positive and negative impacts of certain actions, stories can influence the way people think, feel and act. They can create a shared vision of the company’s future, help employees accept new initiatives, and impart corporate culture and values. In short, stories can be agents of change within your organization.

3 Tips on Building Story-Driven Lessons

Do you know of any blunders or fiascos within or outside your organization? Don’t be afraid of them. Rather, use them to drive a point.

Follow these 3 tips and building your story-driven lessons should be easier.

1. Know your audience

What lessons do your learners need to learn? You can connect the fiasco or blunder to learning objectives and focus on the consequences of what happens if learners fail to succeed or do something. Make them think about the effects of failure.

Take a look at these examples:

Illustration 1

Abstract: Follow ethical standards.

Concrete: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades.

Illustration 2

Abstract: The right temperature setting is below 350 degrees.

Concrete: An explosion happened at 350 degrees which damaged the boiler.

2. Have a clear theme in mind

Ask learners a story question. This draws learners into the story and helps them relate to and interpret the fiasco or blunder.          

Using Illustration 1 as an example, here are possible story questions a trainer may ask learners:

Illustration 1: Federal agents investigated fictitious stock trades
  • Has this happened to you?
  • What could be the reasons for this?
  • How does this impact your performance and reputation?
  • How would a situation like this impact your income, job, and family?

As you probably notice, story questions make it clear to the learners how doing or not doing something will impact themselves and others. Story questions carry concrete messages about the consequences of their actions (e.g., reputation, income, family, and performance).

3. Choose real-life stories

Use real-life stories because these stick in the memories of learners.

Don’t fake the stories. Obtain the stories from events that actually happened and use facts to support them. You can source these stories from your company data or employees in the following areas:
  • Errors      
  • Product returns
  • Customer complaints
  • Violations
  • Safety accidents
  • Failure to comply with laws and policies
  • Breakdown and downtime
  • And many others.


One of the challenges in elearning is making very generic and static content useful and meaningful to the learner. We engage learners by transforming the content from abstract to concrete through the use of real-life fiascos and blunders.


Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne. How to Increase Higher Level Thinking. The Center for Development and Learning, Dec. 7, 2009. 

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Friday, February 10, 2017

It’s Really That Simple - Steps in Story Learning Design - Try the Live Exercise - Tip #120

Do you want to know how simple it is to apply the step-by-step process for creating a Story-Based Lesson? Fear not. There is actually a logic to the process, even if the outcome can be emotional and provocative.

Play this interactive exercise on “Stash the Cash” - a Fraud Detection Story-Based Design.
There are four steps to the process.

  • The Set Up is a Story-Based Learning Objective; unlike the static and linear learning objectives, we help learners to immediately recognize the value of these new approach to creating objectives and the lessons to be learned.
  • Getting learners to look forward to the lesson (State of Readiness) and giving them a peek of what lies ahead (objectives, goal-setting)
  • Show a challenging scene from the story
  • Ask Story Questions to bring the learners to the why and what would happen (possible consequences).

Learners are now jumping into the water, getting deeply immersed. Here they learn to find their place (Context). As we learned in the previous chapter, the Autobiographical Memory begins to make a connection with the learning.

Story Question Guide:
  • Use experiential questions
"Have you ever sat in one place in the same position for hours on end? How did you feel then?"


The learners are now in possession of knowledge which, coupled with their experiences can propel them faster, harder and closer to the Finish Line. Here, we bridge gaps in rapid succession, zip into new evaluations and strengthen connections. Almost there!

This is an example of an  “Interpret” question:
  • Use "what if...?" questions
"You're planning to relax at home and it's the weekend. What if you were told that you must sit close to your TV with your back hunched and your arms crooked in front of you for 8 hours?


This is it. The home stretch. Just the learner, the road and the finish line somewhere in the distance. Just a few short sprints and voila! Success!

Story Question Guide:
  • Use questions in the form of scenarios and allow learners to explore different options
"You notice your employees work while slumped over their keyboards. This causes lethargy and an overall environment of sluggishness. Later in the day, they complain of backaches and pains. What is your recommendation and how will you make things better?"
  • Use questions that tie into existing realities.

By using the Vignettes Learning method of SRIA (Set up, Relate, Interpret and Apply) it is highly likely that you build your confidence and develop the skills in applying the Story-Based Learning Design…


Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

3 Story Lesson Starters That Never Fail - Tip #119

Every day we tell and hear stories about ourselves, about people we love (or don’t love), and about many other things in our world. Why do some stories stick to our minds while others are like wisps of mist that touch us ephemerally? Is it the ending, the beginning or what happens in between that matters most?

An unpredictable ending keeps us hanging in suspense but the beginning can push us or pull us away from the story. How then should we begin our story? Here are some helpful tips.

1. Provoke the Curiosity of Learners

Ignite learners’ interest by provoking their curiosity. We are drawn to things or events that are mysterious or out of our ordinary life. Present an unusual situation and ask them questions such as: “What would you do?” “Do you have any idea why?”

Here are a couple of examples I actually used in my lessons:

In “Hangover Joe,” I stirred learners’ interest by posing the following questions at the beginning of the lesson:
In "Laptop Horror Story," I asked learners:

2. Encourage Learners to Think Critically By Presenting a Conflict or Problem

Challenging learners to resolve a conflict or problem will activate their minds to critically analyze the situation and offer solutions. They will be enthusiastic to listen to the story to find out if they are right. Examples of conflicting or problematic situations are:
This is the first slide of a lesson on Kitchen Safety. What makes this scenario problematic? What consequences do you think will arise because of this?

This example deals with Toxic Waste Drum Labeling. What potential problems does this situation pose?

3. Use Descriptive Words That Enable Learners to Create a Picture in Their Minds

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Words can transport us to another realm. They can stir our imagination to see the vibrant colors of the fields, feel the coolness of running water, smell the cobwebs, or hear the whisper of the leaves. Examples are:
Watch demo here.
Watch demo here.

How do these illustrations make you feel? What does the illustration make you think about? Have you thought about your own or others' experiences? Would learners be able to put themselves in the shoes of a bank employee or HR staff?


A story that activates the mind, heart and imagination at the very beginning will mesmerize learners until the end. We live and relive these experiences for many good years.


Freeman, Suzannah Windsor. 6 Ways to Hook Your Readers from the Very First LineWrite It Sideways, January 20, 2010

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Content That Lives Within a Story Lasts Forever - Tip #118

Stories can touch our whole being—our thoughts, imagination, emotions, and spirit. Emotionally gripping stories have a way of sticking to our memories for a long, long time. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that people remember stories “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”

Read: Weaving Stories and Factual Content for Seamless Lessons

While a story per se is a powerful instructional tool, its power to move the listener emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally largely depends on how the storyteller narrates it. The following tips are helpful.

1. Choose details that reflect your listeners’ emotions and experiences

Excite the emotions of the listeners, whether this be love, anger or grief. Why are children obsessed with the movie “Frozen”? It’s the intense emotional impact. “The message that ‘Frozen’ sends about love, and love being such a strong kind of "conquering all" message resonates with all ages,” said Amy Susman-Stillman, a mother of three and co-director of the Center for Early Education and Development at the University of Minnesota.

Show a story that has relevance to your listeners. What specific concepts do you want to drive home? Are your listeners factory workers, organizational leaders, health personnel or government employees? Contextualizing the story makes it more meaningful.

2. Hook your listeners

Start your elearning lessons or online session with a story to grab your listeners' attention. Ask them questions, even if these are hypothetical ones.

Examples would be:
  • What would you do to get that promotion?
  • What if you consistently didn’t reach your sales quota?
  • What would you do to improve your production?

3. Activate as many senses as possible

Our brains “work better when more than one sensory channel is activated by incoming stimuli” (Tom Reamy, 2002). Let your story come alive and awaken learners’ imagination so that they can feel, smell, taste, and hear the things around them as if they are the characters themselves. Digital media can capture the richness of stories but don’t forget that your voice, words, eyes, and actions are all integral elements that can make the story fascinating and understandable.

4. Invite learners to interact and share

Encourage learners to offer solutions to the problem. Provoke critical thinking by asking questions such as: 
  • How will you resolve the conflict between characters A and B?
  • Which part of the story affects you most? Why?
  • Which character do you admire most? Why?


Because we see ourselves in the characters of stories, we get emotionally and intellectually involved in the events and the knowledge that the story intends to transmit persists in our memories forever.


Brown, Heather. Good Question: Why Are Our Kids Obsessed With ‘Frozen’? CBS Minnesota, May 20, 2014
Reamy, Tom. Imparting knowledge through storytelling, Part 2. KMWorld, July/Aug 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 7]

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"