Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fire that (Fictitious) Employee! Unanticipated Consequences of Using Narrative in Instructional Design

I went to an interesting presentation at my local chapter of ISPI by Andrew Wolff of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He talked about how they had recently begun using the simplest, cheapest versions of narrative and humor in their training. For example, to help their people understand the technical side of one of their businesses, they show a series of photos with audio where a guy gets a call at the end of the week that he needs to do a report on the chipset the company is selling. He is about to ignore the request and go home when his cell phone starts to talk to him. They have still drawings of a little talking cellphone, that change every ten seconds or so in an "animation," and this cell phone has a cartoon-y character voice. The talking cellphone tells the guy about the importance of the chips inside it to the business's bottom line and takes him on a tour of the factory. Or they had a confidentiality training where a story plays out where a character makes simple mistakes that leads to a major breach of security for the company. These innovations were not very expensive and didn't take much longer than a vanilla course to produce. Among the effects, the ones that stood out to me the most were:

1. With no promotion whatsoever of the new course other than word of mouth, training completion timeframes for the company went from something like 90% in the last three days before the deadline for training completion to 90%+ in the first three days the course was available.

2. In the case of the security training, partners in the firm were calling the training department in the first few days after the training was released, trying to get the (fictional) character in the training fired for her negligence.

Now you tell me some other strategy that would have led to similar outcomes. And think of what the company stands to gain by shaving three months off of the amount of time it takes for all of their people to complete required training. And imagine the employees of your company talking to each other in the halls about the great confidentiality training they just completed and how you don't want to miss it. Sounds like some kind of training department fantasy. One that I think many of us would like to be in.


opencontent said...

Absolutely. The instructional videos made by Greg Francom's team for my ID class last year (see had this same effect. We had folks from Canada demanding t-shirts with Rick Noblenski on them.

As much as corporate types what things to be "serious" and "enterprise" and whatever, there simply is no substitute for humor.

msouth said...

The thing I like about this is that, even though corporate training is a "mandated" educational environment, the way they did it here has a component of choice. Although the subjects didn't have a choice as to whether or not to do it, they did have a choice about whether to drag their feet on it.

As a person who is heavily into intrinsically motivated learning, I'm happy to see the all-too-rare opportunity to have intrinsic motivation measured.