This is the sixth in a series of pieces exploring techniques for Virtual Learning Design based around unlocking curiosity and encouraging creativity. In this piece i will explore the three levels of Storytelling: individual, co-created, and organisational. Whilst i’m sharing this in the context of learning design, understanding the levels of storytelling is also something i look at within Social Leadership, specifically how we support others in finding and telling their individual and co-created stories.
Consider three types of story: one we write ourselves, the next we write together, and the third is written elsewhere and given to us. Each has value, but each is different: sometimes in obvious ways, but also in other more subtle ones.
Learning is a process of change: we are disturbed in what we know, we find or are given new information, we ‘sense make’ it (which we explored in an earlier piece), and write our new understanding (both individually and on a consensus level).
One way to use stories in learning is to ask people to write their individual story: the story of learning and change over time. Broadly it follows a narrative like this: ‘this is where i started, this is what i heard, this is what i thought about that, this is what we explored in our community, these are the things i agreed and disagreed with, this is what i did to validate the information, and this is what i believe now’. It’s a story of learning and change over time.
Personal stories are valuable because they are true: only i can write my story, and only you can write yours. Nobody has access except those that you tell, and nobody moderates it except you. Which means it may be wrong, or bad, or insightful and great but nonetheless, it’s all yours. In measurement terms, personal stories are subjective, and qualitative, but can be analysed (e.g. sentiment analysis), or categorised (stories of hope, stories of change etc).
Co-Created stories are founded upon the aggregated stories of many people, but crucially are not simply a collection of them. Part of our personal story may be carried into it, but much may be rejected or amended. I find this a useful way to look at these stories: nobody gets everything they want in it, but they show a shared framework. This is both the strength and weakness of co-created stories: they may be biased, or they may be bland. It’s worth remembering thought that a shared story may have a tension inherent within it, in those elements that are left behind, and that the tension may be carried differently by different people.
The Organisational story is the story that the Organisation tells, often cascaded down: it draws upon a different type of power, and tends to be both monolithic and codified, captured. It may lack authenticity, which is a trait carried more by individuals than systems. But it’s typically safe, and is thoroughly controlled.
Look at these three levels of story again: Individual Stories are self validated, and hence uncontested, but are deeply authentic (which shows as one of the things we value most in both story and storyteller). Using Individual Stories in learning provides us with a semi structured mechanism for reflection, but crucially a terrible tool for assessment, unless what you are looking to do is impose authority and drive conformity.
Co-Created Stories are consensus based, but hence may form within cliques, tribes, or sub-groups who share a consensus! Or they may impose a majority view on minorities, silencing voices in the process. So use Co-Creation with caution, and always remember that a Co-Created Story is not the whole piece: we typically all have something left out or left behind.
Organisational Stories are static and imposed, typically safe, but may lack authenticity. Use these to set up frames and spaces, but be wary of learning design that seeks to impose a story upon a group.
In the next piece we will look at a case study of using stories in learning design.
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