Humanizing the Training Experience

Storytelling is the most powerful tool in today’s business world.

In fact, according to Matthew Luhn, a 20-year Pixar storytelling veteran and brand consultant, “Storytelling is the #1 business skill necessary to connect, motivate and lead people.”

Hired by well-known institutions—such as Stanford and the Haas School of Business at Berkeley—Luhn works to humanize analytical information in order to make it “more digestible and more memorable.”

He explains: “I go in and find themes, and the best ways to share facts and information so that it will be retained long after the presentation. I teach them how to use anecdotes and how to be better storytellers, so that they connect with their audience.”

For Luhn, it’s all about evoking passion.


As an example of this need for passion, Luhn uses the Mercedes-Benz commercial, “Snow Date,” as an ad that successfully captures the importance of storytelling. “People don’t remember statistics,” he says. “They won’t recall what you said. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

So how can instructors evoke passion in the virtual classroom?

The answer lies in presenting students with relevant learning experiences and teaching real-life scenarios through virtual training labs. Students need to be captivated and immersed in real life. In Christopher Pappas’ articleThe Basics of Scenario-Based e-Learning, he suggests several characteristics that scenario-based learning must include:

Specific: When using stories to teach, be sure the content is simple and straightforward. Don’t overload students with unnecessary facts and information. Instead, stick to the content that will allow students to develop the skills needed to do their jobs.

Realism: Make the stories realistic and practical. This is important in order to engage students, while also teaching the appropriate curriculum.

Learn by doing: Students need to “do” instead of just read and listen. As a result, be sure to incorporate stories and scenarios that will provide students with the skills and knowledge that can be applied first-hand to the real world. When teaching software or technology, for example, utilizing virtual training labs is key to giving students first-hand experience with the tool.

Interactive: This real-world experience also plays a role in the interactivity of course content. Students learn better when they are fully immersed in the course material, rather than merely listening to an instructor’s lecture. Pappas suggests the following: “Include characters that learners can relate to, and allow them to choose the path that the character takes through questions and answers. Include dialogue that can draw in the learner and make the experience more realistic and immersive.”

Motivating: Motivation stems from inspiring students, while also giving them the skills and tools to meet challenges and to successfully accomplish tasks. Motivating students to learn in the classroom equates to high-performing employees who excel at their jobs.

Challenging: It is imperative to challenge students to expand their skills and knowledge without overwhelming them. Finding this balance can be tricky, but is well worth the effort.

Luhn insists that storytelling should be “authentic” and “have heart.” To achieve this, he suggests using personal life experiences as you create stories. “The great thing about storytelling is that it’s a way to make a personal connection,” he says. And when it comes to the training experience, this personal connection, especially when it’s appropriately connected to the course curriculum, is critical to improving content retention.


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