Taking charge of your own learning


Working as an independent contractor and freelancer I am responsible for my own professional development. I do not have a boss sitting me down and asking me how I would like to develop professionally and I do not have bi-annual performance meetings. No-one is pushing, or encouraging me to achieve or develop my career. It is my responsibility alone. I have complete freedom with no accountability.

This is a double edged sword. On one hand I can develop skills I am interested in, I can chose what, where, when and how I learn. And oh how I love that freedom! On the other hand I need to finance my own professional development and I have no accountability to anyone but myself. It could be easy to let the day to day work demands overtake learning and professional development, after all it’s nice to relax at night time right! But then future opportunities might start to dwindle and if I’m not learning and improving then I’m not maintaining my edge.

This year I have set myself a goal of doing bi-annual learning plans. In these I will plan what skills I will learn and practice, how I will do this, and when I will achieve it. Being self-employed I’ve decided I can be more accountable by sharing my plans with you! And you’re more than welcome to give me feedback too. If you think there’s something better I could do or something else you think I should check out.

I will publically post my learning plan next week to be accountable. I will share with you my successes and my failures in my professional development along the way. I’ll be open to conversations, feedback, and suggestions.

This is how I’m taking charge of my professional development this year. How will you take charge of yours?

Subscribe or follow me to see my plan in my next post.

Why storytelling should be part of your elearning toolkit


Do you want to engage your audience and help them to emotionally connect with content? Do you want to find a way to get a difficult concept across? Here are some reasons why storytelling needs to be part of your elearning toolkit:

Research tells us storytelling is a powerful way to teach

As well as providing entertainment, stories are often used to teach deeper lessons. Parents have used stories for thousands of years to teach children life skills, beliefs and values. Stories have been used over history to teach religious belief. Advertisers use stories to sell their products. Storytelling as a technique for teaching is not new, it has been used throughout history to embed learning and change behaviour.

Research consistently tells us that stories are much more effective for learning and changing behaviour than giving facts or telling people what to do. This article from the Elearning Guild cites research evidence that found storytelling to be a more effective way of learning.

Stories are everywhere

We are used to stories – they surround us everyday. Whether they are stories from friends and colleagues, reading stories to children, watching a movie, TV (even some of the adverts), listening to songs, or reading a fictional novel. Our brains are conditioned to hear stories and they are an enjoyable way to digest information.

They work well as a motivator – grabbing attention!

A well designed story at the beginning of a training or elearning course can pull the learner in to complete the rest of the course. Stories as an attention grabber are motivating for the audience – they show why the topic is relevant to them.

They give context and meaning

By providing characters, settings and a flow of information or events stories give context and meaning to a lesson. Through a story we can learn from other people’s mistakes or challenges without having to go through the same experience ourselves. Stories can organise complicated seemly unrelated data into connected and meaningful patterns. They are excellent for conveying complicated concepts in a digestible meaningful way.

Connect with the audience at an emotional level

Well designed stories connect with the audience on an emotional level. They use characters that the audience can easily relate to, humour and have a tension point. Here is an example of an advert in New Zealand that had a well designed story to get the message across that it’s good to ‘stop your friends from drink driving’:


The “Ghost Chips” humour from this story became mainstream and gave youths a non-confrontational way to stop their mates from drink driving.

Want to read more, here are a few articles on storytelling that I’ve enjoyed:

Once upon a keyboard: Designing stories into E-learning

Why you need to use storytelling for elearning

Using stories for learning: Answers to 5 key questions

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

Use these tips to make your branching scenario more engaging, no matter what elearning tool you are using!

1.  Set the learner a challenge

By setting a challenge for the learner you can turn a simple branching scenario into something that is much more fun!! Make it memorable and exciting by turning choices into a mini game.

Imagine practicing customer complaint skills by playing a game. Below is an activity that does that. Can you help a customer with their complaint without exploding the situation? If you choose an aggravating response you will explode the situation. If you choose a not so good response the fuse will shorten bringing the situation closer and closer to exploding!

challenge    The choices   explode

2.  Put the learner in the situation

More powerful learning occurs when we can imagine ourselves in the real world situation making decisions. Some ways you can help the learner imagine themselves in the situation is to design your visuals and media to fit the audience and use “you” language. In the game above there was two types of audiences who dealt with complaints, one took complaints face-to-face and the other over the phone. The speech bubbles going off to the side meant that either audience could imagine themselves in the conversation.

3. Build emotion into the branching scenario

Like a story an essential ingredient in a branching scenario is building emotion. Incorporating emotion changes the elearning from being factual and distant to being personal and engaging. Incorporating emotion can be done in a variety of ways for example; through humor, using multimedia such as audio and video to create mood; developing characters through the branching scenario by giving them dialogue and actions to suit their personality; have characters show relevant (or exaggerated) facial expressions; and having elements of surprise.

4.  Connect with your Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Make the scenario as realistic as possible, that includes building in the mistakes people are likely to make. This is where your SME is invaluable, as they will have insight into potential and/or existing misunderstandings.  You can then build these into your branching scenario. This will give not only give your learners the opportunity to receive feedback and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment, it will also help them avoid making the same mistakes when applying the learning.

5.  Make the choices challenging, include the grey areas

It’s tempting to include responses that are easily identified as being right or wrong. However, if you include the grey areas – where the responses that have a mixture of right and wrong, you then motivate the learner to think more deeply about which action or response to take. Have you ever completed a course where you have just gone through the motions as it’s been too easy to identify the right and wrong responses? By including the grey areas you will not only make the branching scenario much more challenging, it will also engage your learners on a deeper cognitive level.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on making more engaging branching scenarios.