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Ideas Instructional Design

The Learner’s Journey

Take a cue from classic storytelling, and send your learners into the adventure of eLearning.

In his 2007 book Engaging Learning, Clark Quinn states, “Learning is at its best when it is goal-oriented, contextual, interesting, challenging, and interactive.”

An internationally recognized learning consultant, Quinn provides several strategies in the book for how to achieve these objectives. One is to develop scenario-based learning that is relevant and engaging to the learning audience. When building a safe practice environment online, it’s important to organize goals and challenges within engaging contextual and interesting scenarios that learners care about. It’s crucial to tell a story that they will want to interact with— one that matters to them.

This is an approach we follow at NogginLabs, where we try to place learners at the center of the story. Each project we work on begins with determining the story our clients want to tell. What’s created the need or opportunity for the training initiative? What are the goals we want to achieve? How will achieving those goals impact the learner?

When trying to determine the story he wanted to tell with Star Wars, George Lucas was inspired by a common hero-quest structure known as “the monomyth,” or hero’s journey. Developed by Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey consists of defined stages that not only help to construct Hollywood blockbusters but can also work well to determine an engaging learning framework.

The Ordinary World

The monomyth starts with the hero living in an uneventful world, going through her daily routine unaware that everything is about to change; think Dorothy living on her Kansas farm or Bilbo whiling away the hours in the Shire.

For learners, this stage is the one in which they feel that the current state of affairs is fine. They don’t recognize existing issues or opportunities. Or maybe they sense that things could be better but don’t quite know how to achieve the goals they dream about. That’s what the training is for; it should meet learners where they are at and take them on a journey of improvement. Questions to consider as you begin conceptualizing the learner experience might include:

  • What does the current state of affairs look like?
  • What has created the need or opportunity for the training that’s being developed?
  • What’s the learner’s current behavior, and what are the causes behind that behavior?

The Call to Adventure

For the hero to begin her journey, she must be called away from the ordinary world. This inciting incident brings the hero’s world into a state of imbalance. This step is presented quite literally in The Matrix when Neo receives a call from Morpheus at his office.

This is where learners need to be informed of the initiative they’re about to undertake. During this training, what’s going to be asked of them?

  • What is the overall goal of this training?
  • How will achieving this goal impact the learner?
  • How will achieving this goal impact the current state of the organization?
  • What are the primary learning objectives related to this goal?

Refusal of the Call

In the hero’s journey, the refusal of the call often sets the stage for disaster.

Change can be hard. It’s not unreasonable to expect learners to be skeptical, afraid, or resistant to pursuing the goal because of how difficult it might be. Heroes can be reluctant too. Luke refuses the quest Obi-Wan presented until he learns of the death of his aunt and uncle.

In the hero’s journey, the refusal of the call often sets the stage for disaster. The same may hold true for an organization if their learners fail to grasp the policies, processes, or concepts needed to solve issues or seize opportunities. Therefore, it’s important to ask the following:

  • Why might the learner be resistant to, skeptical of, or concerned about the identified goal?
  • What obstacles might keep the learner from adopting the desired behaviors necessary to achieve the goal?

Supernatural Aid

A mentor who has mastered skills beyond those known to the ordinary world regularly aids heroes in myths and movies by bestowing their wisdom. Albus Dumbledore fits this role, as do Merlin and Gandalf.

While learners may not have access to magical aid that’s “above the laws of nature,” the training can probably provide them with valuable benefits, insights, and resources to motivate and aid them on their journey. Think about questions such as:

  • What are the benefits for learners if the goal is achieved?
  • What tools and resources exist that can help learners achieve the goal and behavior change?
  • What relevant prior knowledge, if any, do learners have that might help them comprehend the new goal or behavior change?
  • What testimonials or advice from role models, senior leaders,or experts can be incorporated into the training to motivate the learners on their journey?

Tests and the Supreme Ordeal

Once she’s been convinced to accept the call to adventure, the hero progresses through a series of tests that makes her wiser and stronger. When Diana leaves Themyscira with Steve to locate and stop Ares, she encounters several challenges on her way to becoming Wonder Woman. The abilities she gains along the way help to prepare her for the final challenge.

It’s time to develop the real-world scenarios (increasingly difficult challenges) learners will encounter as they progress through the training. How will these challenges be scaffolded? How will they progress in difficulty? What will be the learner’s supreme challenge?

Think about challenges, aids, actions, and outcomes. Think about the potential misconceptions learners might have concerning the behavior, approach, process, or goal that could trip them up. Remember to make the scenarios you develop contextual and relevant. Learners need to feel proud of their learning accomplishments.

Positive Outcome

The positive outcome for a well-developed training experience is that the desired behavior is widely adopted by the learner and her colleagues.

The final obstacles have been overcome and the goal is achieved. Harry defeats Voldemort. Luke helps bring down the Empire. Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch of the West. The hero saves the day and is celebrated throughout the land.

The positive outcome for a well-developed training experience is that the desired behavior is widely adopted by the learner and her colleagues. Consider what this ideal state looks like. How will you know when success has been achieved? Does the learner become an advocate? A mentor?

Kirkpatrick’s Four-Level Training Evaluation Model has been a popular method for evaluating the effectiveness of training. Whether you use Donald Kirkpatrick’s evaluation method or one of your own, it’s a good idea to have a strategy for measuring success.

Happily Ever After

At NogginLabs, we identify our clients’ needs and how they define success at the start of every project. This process kicks off our creative and iterative collaboration process.

Applying the hero’s journey to developing a training experience can be a fun and constructive way to think through the challenges of designing learning that excites your audience. It can help you identify and clarify the story you want to tell them, getting everyone on the development team aligned from the outset of the design process. As you embark on your next learning initiative, take some time to consider your learning monomyth.




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