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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Accidental Learning and the Power of Stories

So today I am all ready to write a blog entry based on an article,"Why is Work Looking More Like a Video Game?" in the online version of the NY Times but then a link over on the side catches my attention. I click and am highly interested.

The link is to an article titled This is Your Life (and How You Tell It). The article describes how psychologists are starting to research how people tell their life stories as a method of gaining insight into the personalities of people.

The article notes that:
Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction. People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list, studies find; and they rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent.
So, yet another arguement for including narratives in all types of learning events.

But what I thought was also interesting was when the article discussed research involving how people replayed events in their lives.
Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behavior. In an experiment published in 2005, researchers had college students who described themselves as socially awkward in high school recall one of their most embarrassing moments. Half of the students reimagined the humiliation in the first person, and the other half pictured it in the third person.

Two clear differences emerged. Those who replayed the scene in the third person rated themselves as having changed significantly since high school — much more so than the first-person group did. The third-person perspective allowed people to reflect on the meaning of their social miscues, the authors suggest, and thus to perceive more psychological growth.

And their behavior changed, too...a subsequent experiment showed that members of the third-person group were much more sociable than the others. “They were more likely to initiate a conversation, after having perceived themselves as more changed,” said Lisa Libby, the lead author and a psychologist at Ohio State University.

Dr. Libby and others have found that projecting future actions in the third person may also affect what people later do, as well. In another study, students who pictured themselves voting for president in the 2004 election, from a third-person perspective, were more likely to actually go to the polls than those imagining themselves casting votes in the first person.

Think of the implications for learning. Can we get our learners to think in third-person when dealing with leadership or communication issues and can we get them to visualize future activities in the positive so they exhibit the desired behavior?

Maybe at the end of a safety class, we should require the learners to visualize being safe in third person. In a leadership class, ask the learners to visualize a time when they were not good leaders in third-person and have them replay the event and then deconstruct it so they can objectively see what behaviors need to change.

You could do the same thing with new trainers or teachers. This would be a great technique with teenagers as well.

I think this also helps make an arguement that third-person simulations or game environments might be a more effective learning tools than first-person envrionments.

Intersting article and it shows the power of the web as I found the article completely by accident just by clicking on an a link that caught my attention. The power of informal and accidental learning.

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