One technique for creating a story-based course is using two characters who explain the content via a conversation. In this conversation-driven elearning approach, I usually use one character who acts as a coach and one character who is similar to the audience: same job role, same level of experience. In this example, the audience is new managers who don’t have much experience with coaching and mentoring.
Story introduction video
I set up the story with a short video at the beginning of the course. This introduces the characters and shows the challenge the protagonist, new manager Michael, faces while coaching one of his employees. I wanted a scenario that showed a clear problem that could be solved through better coaching. If I create a good story at the beginning, I know I can “hook” the learners. I want them to think, “Oh! I’ve felt this same way. I’ve got the same problem as Michael.”
In the introduction, Michael is having “one of those days.” After finishing yet another coaching session with April, she still doesn’t grasp the basics of client relations. At his wits end, he goes to his manager, Pamela, who helps him discover a better way to coach through a session of their own.
If the video isn’t embedded above, you can watch it on YouTube.
Photos and voice over
After the introduction video, the rest of the course was built in Storyline with photos and voice over by the actors in the video. Learners listen in during Michael’s coaching session with Pamela.
Traditional elearning approach
A traditional e-learning course probably would have used a single narrator reading a bullet point list like this:
Here are the reasons coaching and mentoring are important in our organization:
- Employees are more likely to stay if they are supported by managers.
- Developing employee skills reduces employee turnover.
- It helps build our talent pool.
- Building employee skills lets us promote from within.
This course delivers the same content in a conversational style, as if you could listen to the two characters during a coaching session. This does increase the overall word count, but I think it’s more engaging than reading a list. Even with a really good voice over artist, it’s tiring to listen to the same voice for long stretches; this method breaks it up so you always alternate between the voices.
Pamela: Michael, as you know, our organization really values good coaching and mentoring. Why do you think we view it as so important?
Michael: Well, it probably helps keep people here in the organization. People are more likely to stay if they’re supported by their managers and developing new skills.
Pamela: You’re right. It also helps build our pool of talent. We want to promote from within, and that means we need to develop our people so they’re ready to move up.
Michael: Right. I wasn’t ready for a management position when I started here, but I’ve developed new skills since then. At least, I thought I had…
This style of “listening in” on a coaching session fit especially well for this topic. Essentially, the entire training could model the kind of coaching skills we were training.
The activities in the course either ask learners to reflect on their personal skills or respond to scenarios. This activity provides a scenario and asks learners to follow guidelines for providing feedback.
In the final activity for the course, everything ties back to the beginning. Learners create a plan for coaching April in the scenario from the introductory video; they create a solution for the problem at the beginning of the course.
Using stories for learning helps us make sense of the content. Check out the Learning Guild’s research report Using Stories for Learning: Answers to Five Key Questions. In this report Karl Kapp describes a study comparing two versions of a brochure. The research found that people remembered more from a narrative format than from a bullet point list.
The customer response to this course has been positive. Len Carter, V.P. of H.R. for FHN said, “Truly, these were the best online products for leadership development we’ve ever purchased. We’ll be purchasing more [next year]!”
This course was created as part of a series of leadership training modules that could be “semi-customized” for individual organizations. Although I wrote this course a number of years ago, I have used this approach in several other projects since then. I have found that this can be a less intimidating approach than complex branching scenarios for organizations who are new to scenario-based learning.
More on story-based elearning
- How to start creating conversation-driven elearning
- Writing conversations for elearning
- Media options for conversation-driven elearning
- Storytelling and scenarios
Originally published on 1/20/2014. Last updated 2/23/21.