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How to enhance learning with storytelling?

As nowadays every smartphone is giving more pieces of information within seconds than any expert in the field, the focus of teaching should be laid on the mixture of theory, critical thinking and interactive exchange focused on how to transfer the “lessons learned” into the praxis. Therefore our role as educators is to encourage:

  1. guidance – how to learn to develop skills
  2. motivation and activation of curiosity
  3. making the choice of the most important pieces of information which is pretty challenging in the sea of data and facts
  4. explanation of theories and empowerment to find own solutions and best examples (compare Passarelli, Kolb 2012)

All these tasks can only be covered when academic teachers are ready to play multiple roles:

  • Role of the coach who offers guidance, and supports learners to take action to reach personally meaningful goals,
  • Role of the facilitator, who is able to awaken the intrinsic motivation and curiosity, and to support learners to get in touch with their experiences and be able to share them to create collective wisdom 
  • Role of the evaluator who selects the most important info in the sea of information and communicates what is the framework and how the evaluation process is going to look like. In this role the educator monitors the quality of student performance and provides feedback
  • Role of the expert who is able to explain phenomena in a transparent interesting way and helps learners organize their knowledge (compare Passarelli, Kolb, 2012:153).  

As for the storytelling and story sharing mindset to enhance the learning process, it is important to reflect on these four role. 

  • As coaches, educators can work with narratives in many ways.  They can use stories to enhance self-reflection and to encourage asking questions. The reflection phases during the learning process are of great importance as “reflection is central in making meaning from experiences and events” (Zull, 2011:136). Only by learning from the past people are able to create plans for future action. 
  • As facilitators, educators can move from story-me (with the individual focus) and story-we (story sharing with the group to distill a common narrative) to the story-now and call for action. The story of now is an answer and often re-narration of a worn-off story that led to conflicts and crises. It can be called a story of hope, which works like a motivator to gather energy to face challenges, disruption, and rapid changes and to invest time and forces in resilience. (compare Ganz 2011: 279). Hence harvesting powerful stories is a crucial part of this role.
  • As evaluators, educators may use storytelling in many ways as well. Here I would like to share two activities that work perfectly in adult education. The first one is to encourage the learners to write down twits for the presenters. They can be online or offline, anonymous or signed, but should be no longer than 240 signs and should be written down in form of a short story. The second method is simply asking the participants to harvest the most powerful stories and write down the “learnings” from them. 
  • As experts, educators can emphasize the practical aspects of theories and theoretical models with stories. That way the learners are more likely to recall theory and find their own examples to understand theoretical models.

Facing AI (Artificial Intelligence) taking over many highly qualified jobs, we can expect to change careers much more frequently than in the past. As we have instant access to information, self-inquiry, sense making and the ability to quickly adapt and learn are crucial to our survival. Therefore we witness the transformation of educational systems. As James Zull argues in his book “From Brain to Mind” “the primary objective of education is to understand human learning. All the other objectives depend on achieving this understanding”. As we are wired to think and communicate in narratives, we need much more storytelling practices in learning and communicating across cultures. Sharing stories not only enables better understanding of differing culturally based thinking and behavior patterns, but also enhances meaning making. For more details on storytelling and neuroscience, check https://www.interculturalcompass.com/how-does-storytelling-affect-our-brains/

Sources:

Ganz, Marshall (2011): Public Narrative, Collective Action, and Power, in: Odugbemi, Sina/Lee, Taeku (2011): Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inerati to Public Action, S. 273-289, World Bank, Washington. 

Passarelli, A., and Kolb, D.A. (2012). “Using Experiential Learning Theory to Promote Student Learning and Development in Programs of Education Abroad,” in Vande Berg, et al. eds, Student Learning Abroad, pp. 137-161. 

Zull, J. (2011): From Brain to Mind, Sterling, VA: Stylus.