In 1982, after I dropped out of college I started working for an oilfield company in West Texas. I had no previous knowledge of what type of work I would be doing but I was young, dumb, and strong. What I want to share about this story is that it was the first real-job that I would have full-time and it would take a considerable amount of training required for me to become productive. One particular job skill that I was to master was to maintain water-injection pumps.
The person that I was assigned to work with was an old oilfield fixture from the late 1930’s. The town where I spent my teenage years growing up had been an oil-boom town in the 1920’s and James Hensley, my trainer, had spent most of his life in the oil fields. James as you can imagine had leathery skin texture, missing teeth, rugged hands, weathered clothes, and a great sense of humor. I will always remember the first day I worked with James because of what he told me on that day. He said, “Dilbert, I am going to learn you boy.” Now, he didn’t say it in a condescending way but in a mighty rightful way. His objective for the day was to train me on how to correctly maintain this behemoth of a system. James didn’t have a training plan, training manual, checklist, and a final examination. What James had was tacit knowledge, psycho-motor skills, and cognitive detail regarding every aspect of the pump system. I managed to learn from James everything I needed to learn to maintain those pumps on a regular basis and the satisfaction of doing it correctly gave me confidence to perform the task successfully without any assistance.
The reason I like telling this story is because even before I knew the psychology behind adult learning I had already experienced most of it before. Even before I would learn what a design document, learning outcomes, target audience, instructional strategies, and all those other elements that we use to develop learning I had already experienced. Now, I can recall and reflect on the types of training I received in my previous jobs and compare notes as to how my trainers did.
Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters, and narrative point of view. I have always been in favor of trainers, instructors, and even teachers use storytelling as an alternative teaching method to deliver learning. Some topics or concepts are hard to convey to students and sometimes a good story can jump start the delivery. I use the oil field story about James not to mention the training but the humor in which he delivered his training on me. That was his teaching method to make me feel comfortable during the training. He engaged me into listening to him by using short-stories about the process, equipment, tasks, and outcome upon completion. And I bet James was never certified to be a trainer or teacher.
The benefits of using stories include:
- providing a realistic context for content
- conveying action versus static information
- providing motivation for participants to connect with content
- adding interest to learning programs.