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Learning with Stories

ONCE UPON A TIME -- well, actually, today still -- stories are a wonderful instructional tool. They're a powerful way to encourage learning and help people not just to understand information but to experience it as well. Furthermore, research suggests that information derived from stories is more likely to be remembered by a learner -- and for much longer -- than information gleaned from a list of facts and figures (Neuhauser, 1993; Reamy, 2002). In other words, stories can provide the emotion needed to make information relevant and turn data into knowledge!


Organizational storytelling
Storytelling is a useful technique in business to teach a variety of ideas, principles and concepts including motivation, leadership, problem solving, and customer care. Storytelling has been and can be used as a means to introduce change (both attitudinal and ways of doing business), define organizational culture, enhance systems design, and develop knowledge management systems (Breuer, 1998; Denning 2001; Warren, 2003)

Capturing and sharing tacit knowledge
Storytelling is a compelling knowledge management tool used to capture tacit information. Often the canonical wisdom and knowledge of an organization is insufficient to meet the needs and problems that come up in the real world. Stories about the work convey experienced-based knowledge built on practice in a palatable and digestible fashion.

A true story
At Xerox, a series of studies showed that repairman learned how to fix copiers not from manuals or classrooms but from swapping stories with other repairmen around the coffeepot. Xerox collected the repairmen's stories -- which often offered new and innovative ways to solve customer problems -- in a database called Eureka. According to Xerox's website, Eureka now solves about 250,000 problems a year and saves Xerox upwards of $100 million a year in service parts and labor costs.

Another true story
At IBM, storytelling was used to get at the knowledge involved in selling global accounts. After a deal was complete -- a process that took several months -- the people who had worked on that deal were reassembled and asked to relive the story while video cameras recorded the event. Ideas were then lifted from the tapes and shared as best practices.

The end
Storytelling involves a set of skills which must be groomed and sharpened in order for one to capitalize on the power of this learning strategy. "A good story taps into the intellect and emotions of the audience; it leaves listeners enriched in their learning and feelings" (Kaye & Jacobson, 1999). Certainly, as designers of instruction, it is imperative to be aware of this strategy and to take advantage of it as much as possible in order to create an effective learning situation.

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