Critical Thinking Training Through Storytelling

How many stories did you tell today?  One?  Two?  Twenty?

How many stories did you hear?  Can you remember the image you had in your mind when you heard the story?  Could you envision what the characters looked like even if you’ve never met them?

Have you ever met someone and thought “Oh, that’s not what I thought she’d look like”?

We are natural storytellers.  We also naturally create a mental image to go along with the stories we hear or read.  Those mental images stick with us and help us remember the details of the story long term.

And that is why training through storytelling is so effective.

Tell me 10 facts and I may not remember them.  Tell me 10 stories about how those facts made an impact on your life and I will remember them forever.

A great example of successful storytelling in a training context is the FISH Philosophy.  Tell me it’s important to have fun at work, and I’ll roll my eyes at you.  SHOW me a real story of how working in a stinky fish market can be made fun, entertaining, and improve the customer experience, and I’ll remember it for years (for me it has been 11 years to be exact).

Storytelling can be particularly effective in critical thinking training too.  Some people shy away from critical thinking training because it doesn’t sound fun.  It sounds academic and philosophical.  It doesn’t have to be.

By starting with an engaging story of effective thinking, you can create a mental image of how critical thinking works.  Learners can connect with the characters and envision how they would have handled a similar situation.

That’s what Pearson TalentLens is doing with their new half-day training program THINK Now!  Learners start by reading the Now You’re Thinking! book to connect with a heartwarming, heroic story of phenomenal thinking, problem solving and decision making.  Then they take the My Thinking Styles assessment so they can learn which of the 7 Powerful Thinking Styles is their natural approach to thinking.

Next, the trainer connects the story of how Marines saved the life of a 2-year old girl to the 5 Steps to New Thinking and the Thinking Styles.  To create an even stronger mental connection between the critical thinking model and the real-life story described in the Now You’re Thinking! book, the trainer shows video interviews of the Marines involved in saving Amenah’s life.

Participants walk away from the training with a strong understanding of a critical thinking model AND a real life example of how the use of that model has been successful in the past.  Additionally, when they recall the individual differences of each thinking style, they will remember a character from the story that embodied the characteristics of that style.

It is that meaningful connection and mental image that will reinforce the lessons learned for months and years to come.   Try telling a story with a life lesson today and see how long your employees remember it.  You will be amazed by the results.

How do you train critical thinking in your organization?

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions (The Story of the Oregon Trail Game)

Months ago Heather Ishikawa, a co-author “Now You’re Thinking!” said something that really stuck with me:  “If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”

The statement still gives me goosebumps.

Since then I have read hundreds of stories about ordinary people who challenge the standard way of thinking, break down barriers, try something new, and make the world a better place.  It’s time to honor those individuals.

This is an example of an ordinary person who made an extraordinary decision that changed the world.

Our first story is about Don Rawitsch, the creator of the Oregon Trail computer and video game.  Don was a student teacher in 1971 struggling to teach his students in a low-income area of Minneapolis about the importance of the Oregon Trail.  He had dressed up as historical figures to tell the students about the adventure, but felt he needed to take the lesson a step further.  On the floor of his apartment, he created a board game that the students could play to understand the day-to-day challenges of the journey.

When Don’s roommates (Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann) came home, they were impressed but thought it could be even better.  They had each only taken a few computer programming courses, but thought it would be a great computer game.  In a matter of days, the first iteration of the Oregon Trail was created and was a huge success.  Despite it’s clunky nature (there wasn’t even a computer monitor back then) and single-player functionality, students lined up to play and learn about the historic event.

As a child of the 80′s myself, I clearly remember the excitement of “computer day” when we got to play Oregon Trail for an hour.  I remember learning to strategize and plan by buying supplies at the store, deciding how long to travel vs. rest, when to hunt (and how much), and whether to caulk my wagon or ford the river.  I remember members of my party dying of measles, dysentery, and exhaustion.  The message was brought home when that individual’s name was scrawled on a tombstone along the trail.  Not only did I learn what an amazing feat that travel was, but I would argue that the Oregon Trail video game was the first game that helped me build decision making skills.

And it all started with a student teacher trying to teach a group of poverty stricken students about an amazing historic event. 

Don Rawitsch was an ordinary person who thought differently, and changed the world.  He didn’t stick to the lesson plan.  He didn’t use the notes and activities handed down by teachers before him.  He didn’t limit himself by the lack of resources and opportunities available to his students.  He challenged the status quo.

He changed the world with the most widely distributed educational game of all time.  Between 1974 and 2011, 65 Million copies have been sold.  This week, the Oregon Trail became available for play on Facebook.

“If you can change the way you think, you can change the world.”  It’s that simple.

Do you remember playing the Oregon Trail video game?

To read the full story of how the Oregon Trail video game was invented, click here.

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions: Khan Academy

Have you ever tried to help a sibling, child, or friend with their homework?  Salman Khanwas asked to help his cousin Nadia with her math problems in 2004, and he turned that simple request into a non-profit organization that has helped 38 million YouTube viewers worldwide.

Salman is a 33 year old from New Orleans who just wanted to help his cousin and other family members learn math.  Before I talk about his “Extraordinary Decision” I should be clear that I don’t consider Salman “ordinary” in any traditional sense of the term.  He received a perfect score on the math section of the SAT’s, holds degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science in addition to an MBA from Harvard.  He’s wicked smart! However, he was an average person in the sense that he was holding down a full time job and he just wanted to help his cousin learn how to solve math problems.

Salman began remotely tutoring his cousin online and over time realized it would be more efficient to record his lessons and post them on YouTube.  As the popularity of his videos grew, he realized the need for “free education” provided in a simple, direct, and relaxed approach.  Today, Salman has produced over 2,000 ten-minute videos on YouTube ranging from elementary school mathematics to college level calculus (where was this when I was in undergrad?).  He averages 35,000 hits per day and has big plans for the future of Khan Academy?  Monetization, right?

Wrong!

Khan has received several offers to sell his videos and the Khan Academy and turned each one down.  The organization itself is a non-profit.  Khan could likely retire today based on the offers he has received.  Google has even contributed $2 Million to translate the videos into additional languages.  The possibilities are endless.  Individuals in the most remote areas of the world can receive world-class tutoring with the click of the mouse.  It’s amazing.

As if the story isn’t extraordinary enough already, consider the fact that Salman has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40″ (a prestigious list of rising entrepreneurs) and even Bill Gates said he uses the Khan Academy to teach his kids.

What I find truly extraordinary is his perspective on selling Khan Academy:

“I’ve been approached several times, but it just didn’t feel right. When I’m 80, I want to feel that I helped give access to a world-class education to billions of students around the world.”

As far as his long-term vision, he says:

“I see Khan Academy becoming the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything–for free.

The videos are just part of the vision. We hope to build out the adaptive software to cover all the topics that the videos cover. We also intend to develop simulation games to give more nuanced and applied understanding of concepts.”

I am amazed and inspired by Salman Khan’s brilliance, innovation, and philanthropy.

Salman Khan decided to think differently, and he is changing the world.

How did you make a difference in the world today?

Khan

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