Learning Experience Leader

71 // Narrative Distance and Homiletics for Instructional Design with Dr. Stephan Taeger

October 05, 2021
Learning Experience Leader
71 // Narrative Distance and Homiletics for Instructional Design with Dr. Stephan Taeger
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Stephan Taeger is a religious educator and an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University’s Department of Ancient Scripture. He has authored or co-authored chapters and articles in various instructional design, educational, and/or theological venues. Dr. Taeger’s research interests include homiletics and narrative instructional design.

Today we discuss: 

  • The principles of Narrative Distance and its applications to instructional design
  • Insights from Homiletics –the practice and craft of preaching– for designing learning
  • Creating cognitive and emotional space for people to learn through indirect stories
  • How to use story to create meaningful content that promotes transformational change

Resources

Join the conversation on the LX Leader LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/learning-experience-leader-podcast 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/lxleader)
Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Jesus would actually, scholars say about a third of what he taught was parables. And he would often just tell a story, give a parable, and then just let it hang there and let people come to make sense of it of themselves. And like other religious traditions, people have been talking about those parables and their interpretation for literally 1000s of years now, that might be one testament to the strength of this kind of method of teaching, right?

Greg Williams:

From the beautiful state of Utah in the United States. Hello, and welcome. I'm Greg Williams, and you're listening to the learning experience leader podcast, a project devoted to design leadership in the psychology of learning. This podcast helps you expand your perspective of learning design through conversations with innovative professionals and scholars across the world. Dr. Stephen tager, is a religious educator and an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University's Department of ancient scripture. He has authored or co authored chapters and articles in various instructional design, educational and or theological venues. Dr. tager, His research interests include homiletics, and narrative instructional design. Today, we discuss the principles of narrative distance and its applications to instructional design insights from homiletics, which is the practice and craft of preaching, creating cognitive and emotional space for people to learn through indirect stories, and how to use a story to create meaningful content that promotes transformational change. As always, there's some great resources listed in the show notes, you can join the conversation in the LinkedIn page that's also linked in the show notes. And with that, let's get started. Well, Stephen, I'm so excited to have you here on the show today. Thank you for being here. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. I know I provide a brief introduction here. But I'm wondering if you could talk just a little bit about what your current work looks like, what what are you up to these days?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, so I actually am a religious educator, I teach at an institute of religion next, adjacent to Utah Valley University. And then I also adjunct at Brigham Young University for in religion classes. And then, in the mornings, before I go to work, I tried to talk about narrative and instruction and homiletics. And write about topics related to that. And so that's what I'm involved with right now.

Greg Williams:

So is that early work? That's just like, on the side for fun? Are you like working towards publishing more articles? Or is that not really formalized into a thing at this? Yeah,

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

no, no, that's all me trying to publish and be involved with the Academy. Yeah, so that's the direction I'm trying to move more and more towards is just to be a part of the Academy, part of the discussion.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, yeah. And today, we'll talk a little bit about some of those, some of the ideas and things that you've written about. And I'll be sure to include references in the show notes, too, to at least the article I read, but then others if if you have those available, so some of the key ideas I was reading about in your article that's listed on the open access site, it's called applying the design of narrative distance in instruction. It was related to a lot of other writing, I think that you've done and over the years. So I wanted to start out just talking broadly about what is narrative distance? If you could talk about that. And then you mentioned your interest in homiletics. And for many people, including myself, that's kind of like, what is that? Is that some Greek thing that I didn't learn about in high school? or?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, so narrative distance is actually a term that someone in my graduate program came up with to describe this phenomenon that is actually talked about in a lot of different ways in the literature. In fact, narrative distance is actually a term used in other disciplines related to how close we get to a character in a story or other things, and how, how much is the author bringing as close to either like a character's thoughts or feelings or other aspects of the story. But the way that I use narrative distance is actually just sort of the indirect part of a story that invites you to think deeper, to sort of bring meaning to the story. And so I didn't seem to be a lot of discussion and instructional design, about the indirect nature of narrative. And there's actually pretty good reason to think that narrative is very powerful, very transformative. I think that goes without saying, but a central aspect of what makes it so powerful, is actually its enduring ripeness right. homiletics is actually the study of preaching. And for, you know, 2000 years, people have been wondering, that's an obvious I studied Christian preaching. And for 2000 years of Christianity, people have wondered how do we best communicate the message of the New Testament or Christianity. And the kind of homiletics that I study is called narrative homiletics, which obviously draws a lot upon the principles and narrative and indirect teaching. For most of Christian history, sermons were an introduction, a few points and a conclusion. And then in the 1960s, and 70s, a humla, Titian named Fred kradic started writing. And he argued more for a narrative shape and sermons that sort of ended abruptly sort of leaving the audience hanging, having to make some conclusions about the message of the sermon for themselves. And he writes a lot about the advantages of that, and also the disadvantages, but mostly, what happens when you give people some space, to have to make sense of what a story or message is trying to say?

Greg Williams:

Later well, and I think both when you're describing narrative distance, and now this, this idea of homiletics, or the study of preaching, I think of a lot of stories, you know, whether it's old parables, whether it's parables Christ, or Buddha, right, or parables from the daodejing and and I'm saying that horribly wrong, but in like Taoism, was also different religious traditions have, I feel like this running theme of stories? Sometimes the morals are really clear, like the moral of the story is, but oftentimes, they aren't. So I imagine that's a big part of, of all this conversation.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah, there's a biblical scholar who has what's called an ame CH, DOD. And the way he phrased it was, they put your, this is a paraphrase, but he basically says, The, the meaning of the parable is, is you can't quite make sense of it. So it teases the mind into, like, trying to make sense of what it's trying to say, right. And so Jesus would actually, scholar say, about a third of what he taught was parables. And he would often just tell a story, give a parable, and then just let it hang there and let people come to make sense of it of themselves. And like other religious traditions, people have been talking about those parables and their interpretation, for literally 1000s of years now, that might be one testament to the strength of this kind of method of teaching, right?

Greg Williams:

It's so fascinating to me, because I know, sometimes listeners to Jesus Christ's stories would be frustrated, like, just tell us what you mean, you know. And interestingly enough, I could imagine trying to use this approach of narrative distance in let's say, the corporate space right now. Like, I'm trying to wrap my head around how how I do that, because, you know, my stakeholder might be like, why are you telling this, you know, ambiguous story, like, what's the concrete result that we're going to get to drive behavior? And let alone the learners who are like, why are you telling me this random story? So I know, there's structure that's needed in order for it to fit in the various, you know, context. So I want to talk about that a little bit, because I know you'd have you have a lot of good insight to share about that example, and maybe others. So in this particular article, you shared six different or sorry, you interviewed six storytelling experts in one study. And then in this article, you kind of break down some of the themes and the principles and practices that you extracted from that. So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about that study and the context for there, and then maybe we could dig into some of those principles?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. So I was, I was just really interested in how different storytellers sort of create this indirect effect and communicate profound messages and sometimes transformative messages through story. And so I interviewed two playwrights, a director, I interviewed a narrative preacher, an author, and then also an artist, someone who does painting. And all six of them actually, you know, were really involved in their fields, these were not, these were professionals. Some of them have been involved with big name projects. And so it was an awesome opportunity to really learn, learn, learn from masters of storytelling, about how they subtly put in these messages and create the space for the listener, or the reader or whatever it is. And so I interviewed them and then after sort of analyzing the themes, and and analyzing the data going through this, there's over 600 pages worth of, you know, interviews, I mean, I, it, I broke it down to four main principles of creating the space. And so those actually can be divided up into just two halves. So the first half is how do you create the space, the distance, give people room, and I just broke that down into cognitive space and emotional space. So cognitive space means I don't do your thinking for you, I don't tell you what the story means I leave, I give you the space to figure that out. And emotional spaces, I don't try to force you to feel something to experience something. So I know, like one of my participants said with a playwright, he said, No cheap violins in the background or anything like that, to try to force you to feel something. And then the other half of it is just giving people space wouldn't actually lead to transformation, but it might on some level. And the other half of it is to the the third principle would be to actually invite change through the story. And then the fourth principle is to, or theme would be to connect to things that are meaningful to the listener. So when those four things come together, that's what I sort of found, creates this narrative space, this distance, for people to have room to think about it and connect with it emotionally the way that they want to, but also to be challenged to be something different. At the same time, the kind of instruction that this would apply to probably, you know, wouldn't be like, changing a tire or, you know, chemistry formulas or something like that. It would be more effective, more transformational training, how to how to actually invite someone to change in profound ways, you know, that that kind of instruction would be what what this would be relevant for?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, you did talk a little bit about that term, transformative experiences, and how this is most relevant to that. And yet, in a lot of your examples, I felt like, it illustrated that these principles could still be utilized, even if it's not like some total, you know, earth shattering life changing goal that you're going for, right? They're still useful principles for even something like one of your examples was a sales training, I feel and, and things like that. So I'd love to look into each of those four pieces and a little bit more detail. Because when I was reading about the cognitive space, you know, one of the first elements you mentioned in there is to use concrete material without moralizing. You know, so again, back to the the moral of the story is kind of the Aesop's Fables. You know, there's this story, and then there's like a line or two, that kind of breaks down the theme for you, that seems to be sort of the foil or the opposite of, of what you're describing here.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Right, right. Yeah. And so I mean, for that to work there has there has to be some kind of context to a story or a concrete example, that doesn't have a moral at the end of it. So for example, if you were doing a sales training, like you just brought up a second ago, it might be about, you know, you know, working hard and staying on task and using your time wisely, or whatever it is. And then throughout, you can put these little narratives that illustrate that without someone coming in, and sort of subsidizing our laziness and doing our thinking for us, and explaining how it relates to the other more direct instruction. So that'd be a really simple way to sort of sort of get people thinking about what how the material can relate to their own lines, and what changes they could make. Right? But it would definitely, if you just threw it out there that might just for us frustrate people, right? If you just sit here figure this out, there has to be context to these moments of distance, right? Well, yeah.

Greg Williams:

You mentioned that the principle here is really based on the assumption that to be inspired to change. One must feel some sort of ownership in that process, that they were a part of that decision to change. Whereas if it's like I'm telling you to change, it's very unlikely I'm gonna be like, oh, great idea. I think I will,

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

right? Yeah. So yeah, like every, every, you know, everyone knows what it's like to hear a song on the radio, and then to put your own life story into that, or to watch a movie and start identifying deeply with the characters. And the director doesn't stand off to the side saying, This is the part where I want you to make sense of this for your life. It's, the material is crafted in such a way that we actually have a choice, we actually have agency in interpreting the material for ourselves. And when when Fred Craddock, the guy I mentioned earlier, really started talking about the preacher I mentioned earlier, really started talking about distance and in the context of preaching. He said, one of the main reasons why this is so important is because people are just defensive, they just, no one likes to be told what they you know what they should be to do all of the time, and so we should give them space and let them make the choices for themselves how they'll make sense of the material.

Greg Williams:

So I just finished reading the book, think, again by Adam Grant, who's an organizational psychologist and a principal he introduced me to. And that book is motivational interviewing. I don't know if you've ever heard of that, Oh, no, it's this reminds me a lot of what you're describing here, where, and he used the example of a doctor who's trained in this practice of motivational interviewing. He works with young, young mothers in hospitals who, you know, don't want to vaccinate their children. For some, this is not even COVID. This is like vaccines, a lot of the other ones, right, but they're worried about it. And instead of coming in and being like, here's all the data, you should do it, you know, come on, let's do this. It's this, providing this space and asking thoughtful questions and listening. And that's kind of the extent of what it is. It's, there's some interesting connections here, I feel like to that concept of motivational interviewing.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And what's so interesting about some of those, which topics sometimes can be very emotionally charged, is that that's where this emotional space would come in. So if I, if I were talking to someone who was hesitant about vaccinating their kids, and I say, let me tell you a story. And the story was just about someone who didn't vaccinate their kids and their kids got sick and died or whatever, they would absolutely know what I was trying what I'm trying to do there. Right. And so that would be a violation of emotional space, because they would, they would see that story as me just trying to manipulate them, right. So with the more highly charged an issue is, the more we have to be indirect, and give them space that I talked about in the article that a lot of different ways that you can create an emotional space. Right. But that is becomes essential when we deal with really controversial issues, you know,

Greg Williams:

yeah, I mean, there's two pieces related to both cognitive and emotional that you mentioned. So on the cognitive end, is using moral ambiguity, which is interesting coming from, you know, a, if it's, and this is not a religious article, but a lot of the citations, like you've mentioned, are coming from preacher researching and things like that. But to advocate for moral ambiguity, right does not sound like, you know, that something that you'd hear coming from a preacher or something, but it has the learner guessing is what you say, and invites him or her to make a potentially transformative decision about their own moral framework. So that was kind of on the cognitive side. Whereas on the emotional, I thought it was interesting, you pointed out to avoid simplifying the human conflict. So kind of like we're describing, there's this like idea of a binary bias, like it's either this way or that way. So it's like you either get the vaccine, and you're amazing, or you don't, and you're just evil, right? Could be the doctors approach. But of course, that's not going to be helpful to anyone. So I think those two elements really come to mind. And I'm trying to think about some examples of maybe either how you see this playing out in instruction? Or, or have you experimented in including some of these things to get different results in some of these areas? Are these harder affective areas?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. So as far as more ambiguity goes in a religious religious atmosphere, it, it would it obviously wouldn't be, I'm not going to be clear about what the message of this text is, or have this, you know, ethical principle I'm trying to teach. What's interesting, and this actually has direct application for instructional design is what some preachers will actually do is take the characters and attacks that are most often seen as sort of bad or evil, and just sort of characterize just one sided and sort of say, Oh, well, maybe they maybe they're actually, we can understand it from their point of view, and see what they're saying and, and sort of, sort of validate their point of view. And they do that as a setup for, to teach a higher principle not to, not to cause confusion or anything like that. So for example, Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners. And if someone who was listening to this or applying this principle might say, do you know what you kind of are influenced by who you hang out with and maybe sometimes it really is wise to keep good company and all that does is just put more edge on Jesus's message of saying you should actually be friendly and kind and loving to all kinds of people right? You know, but and as far as a you know, more traditional instruction, moral ambiguity would show up as maybe the character I know is not supposed to be ideal in a certain situation. So for example, I think the example I use in the article is a training for for students, you know, high school students, middle middle school students about underage drinking. And I say maybe the kid who offers another kid a drink is actually sort of funny. And people really like him. Yeah. And then this, you know, the student has to really think, well, maybe life isn't so simplistic, I have to actually make hard decisions about what I think is best or ethical or something like that, right?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, so this the other piece I wanted to mention on emotional space, before we move to kind of the other two items, was this idea of unearned emotion. And why we should avoid that? Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. And so unearned emotion is basically when a storyteller tries to cash in on a moment, and there hasn't been enough context to really, like, provide the kind of payoff emotional path that we need. And it's really simple form. And if you want, if you don't want to have unearned emotion, all you have to do is provide enough backstory context, and not simplify the issue that you mentioned this a second ago. And so as long as the character really wrestles with whatever issue is at stake in the narrative, and they spend the appropriate amount of time thinking about it, and we know the background of characters, and we've had time to invest in them, then the payoffs feel authentic. But I remember watching a play once, I think it was a tale of two cities, the musical. And very quickly, the play was asking me to feel these deep emotions when I had barely even gotten to know the main characters, right. And so if we're trying to create transformative instruction, we have to make sure that we provide the right context before we go to a moment where we're really inviting people to think or feel or experience something, right.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, it's probably a cheap shot. But with all of this, I keep thinking of compliance training, you know, that's like, you start and right away, it's like, Don't Don't die, like will Bob, do this awful thing or not. And it's kind of breaks like, the generic compliance training breaks all of these rules. I had a guest on last year, Travis Wu, who, who has some amazing insights about genuinely good compliance training, which is much more in line with this, because real compliance situations are all of these things, they're moral, ambiguous, they are not simple, right? They that they're difficult, right? And to engage in those kinds of things, is very possible. But it's, it also takes a little bit of thought, and a lot of the compliance training these days is just bought off the shelf, I feel like but um, anyway, that's probably a cheap shot. But it's, that's the easiest thing I can think of. So on to the next two items, was invite change and meaningful content. So by inviting change, I don't think you're saying here like, as, as going through the story, you know, the character turns and breaks the fourth wall. And it's like, and so you, too, can not do drugs, or whatever, right? Like, what do you mean by inviting change in narrative distance? How do those work together?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, absolutely. So we can't just tell a story that's open ended, there has to be elements of the story that and invite the listener to be different, right in some way, if that's what the instructional objectives are call for. And so one of the key ways you can do that, and this is, it's hard to overstate the importance of this in as far as using narrative to teach and invite change is to actually have the character change. And so the character first is skeptical, and actually brings up really good arguments against why they may not want to comply, right, in a compliance training or whatever. And then has authentic experiences, that actually where they start to see the world differently. And so what happens is the listener just changes alongside those characters. There's actually a really interesting study done at Ohio State. It's coffin and Libby, they do the study, and they, they sort of examine this phenomenon called experience taking. And that's when someone gets so lost into a story that they actually begin to experience the emotions of a character. And then they actually start to manifest the behaviors of the character. And they've they found that when people would read these, they created these first person narratives about people overcoming obstacles on voting day to go vote. And they found that people who experience tait, right I don't know, I don't know that's an actual word or not, or, like we're more likely to vote on on voting day, right? And in regards to distance. What was interesting is if they put a mirror up in the room, as someone was reading this narrative, they were less likely to experience take, suggesting that I have to be able to sort of lose myself in the story have the space to come into the story, if I'm thinking too much about myself, if I'm being defensive, that I'm just less likely to get lost in this vicarious change that is taking place in the care

Greg Williams:

Yeah, no, there's so many interesting connections to that, then I, one of the sub points you had under that was to define the learner in a way that helps connect them to a larger narrative. And to be able to, as they're connecting themselves to this bigger piece that helps them almost identify themselves in in a way, it reinforces a certain part of their identity, I guess you could say. And as you're describing that, it's been Now a couple of weeks since I've seen an episode of Cobra Kai, and like, my desire to sign up for karate has like gone down in the last week and a half, you know, I was like, I think I'm gonna do this, you know, but I haven't watched an episode in a while. And now I'm like, I have less, you know, visions of myself doing some pretty epic side kicks and stuff. But it's so true. Um, but this larger narrative piece has me thinking about something else in this book I just finished but that Adam Grant book, is he talks about how often we identify our beliefs are connected to our values, or our beliefs are connected to our identities. And so it becomes very hard to change or rethink our ourselves or our beliefs, because there's that strong connection. And he advocates for connecting our values to our identity instead of hanging our beliefs on them. And I feel like what you're describing is, you know, having the learner connect to a larger narrative is kind of related to that if I can re emphasize the value of being a baseball player over being a Red Sox fan. Maybe I can get along better with a Yankees fan, if we both think about that larger narrative of baseball. And then the smaller narrative of like, which team our allegiance lies with?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, well, just as a side note, I was born and raised in Massachusetts and Red Sox fans getting along with Yankees fans, it's just that's a paradox. It's, it's impossible to go against the basic principles of physics and but regardless, I yeah, there's, there's sort of a lot of bad pop psychology that says, You are what you think. And most people who study this kind of thing, just don't believe that anymore. There's something deeper than our thoughts. And that's our way of being it's, it's the kind of beings we are as sort of brought up in specific cultures that have narratives, relics, sacred sites, and whatever narrative we take up, that I'm not even talking about religious, religiously, there's these larger, overarching, meta narratives that we sort of all embrace. So if I'm a Red Sox fan, I know who bill Buckner is, Fenway Park is a sacred spot, I can, I can name the 1991 starting lineup, or whatever it is. And that sort of works on my emotions, that there's a philosopher named Jamie Kay Smith, who's written a lot about this, how, really the way that people can change in profound ways is to invite them into a new liturgy, new rituals that include stories, narratives, relics, and once they take up the stories, and this larger narrative, then it's sort of an indirect way of inviting them to change. So a corporation can have a have a creation story, with, you know, with sacred relics and sites, maybe I don't know if this is true or not, but maybe Apple has, you know, early Apple computers, you know, out in a display case, and that kind of thing, right. And so that's, that's one of the ways that we can indirectly invite someone to change is by trying to connect them to this to these larger narratives.

Greg Williams:

Totally, I don't know if you've read anything from Jonathan Hite, moral psychologist, he has this his book, The righteous mind. And he identifies, you know, these key moral foundations theory is what he calls it. And one of the key moral foundations is this idea of sanctity, which you're describing, and he talks about human beings as 90%, chimp and 10%, and B, and the B part is, you know, we have this hive, hive mind or this collective mind, where we have these shared sites in the shared things, which, you know, I used to work into a software company and I got my picture taken with the kitchen table that, you know, the the founder sat at, when he decided there's got to be a better way to do my finances. Right? And that sits in this really cool, like area in the in the main building there in Mountain View, California. And, yeah, it's like a sacred site to Intuit employees. And it seems like if you can identify what secret in a group, that's one of the quickest ways to understand kind of how that what makes that group tick, what's important to that group and like you're saying, to be able to then help individuals tap into that larger narrative to become a part of that group?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. It's interesting because that that is that's tricky, because that also could come across as you know, another tactic by my corporation to sort of create, you know, to get me to comply in some way or do something right. And so, you know, there's a philosopher named Ian Thomson who talks about if I decide something has meaning just strictly because I decide that it has meaning, I can also decide no longer that it doesn't have meaning, right? So we sort of have to be open to these natural opportunities to create these sort of creation narratives and relics and sacred sites, and just not be not be close to them, but also not force them to happen. Otherwise, people will sense that they'll No, we're just Oh, yeah, that's that's a new, you know, business idea that we're supposed to do, right? Yeah.

Greg Williams:

The latest fad to turn us all into stormtroopers and software to war. Yeah, right. Right. Yeah. Well, so you mentioned meaning, then the last piece here is meaningful content. You talked about the importance of creating identification, having sort of learners see themselves in the instruction. And also, I thought this was one of the most interesting that stuck out to me, of not changing the characters, but that learners can identify best with, you know, a small cast.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. So I haven't seen too many. And I didn't, I didn't think of this myself. This was obviously this came from my people I interviewed. But I haven't I haven't seen too many movies where the focus of the main character changes, and it really works very well, right. And so the film, the filmmaker, I interviewed, he said, This, a good film story is about one person. Because if it's only about one person that gets you to identify emotionally, much more intensely, right. And so we just, we just can put all of our investment in one spot. And so just makes the experience much, much more meaningful in that sense.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I mean, it's like the amount of time you can spend with someone in their head or observing them. I mean, who hasn't watched, you know, many seasons of a particular TV show and felt like you truly got to know those people. Right? And because of the sheer amount of time, I guess, that you've spent with them.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Right, right. Yeah. And you can have good sub characters, right? That's, that's important. But really, I mean, the original Star Wars was about Luke right? That's, that's where the all the majority of the investment goes, right?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, and his transformation and evolution, there are others that go through their own minor ones. But yeah, so I guess the take from there is if you're going to do a set of, in your design, you've got lots of different modules, or touch points or something like that, if you're weaving a story in the value might be and having that story follow one person versus lots of different, like situations of personas. Is that an accurate summary?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, 100% especially especially if the if the person interviewing is a likable character, right? Obviously that would be essential. And then they can sort of show up and, and the narrative or story or the interview we do with someone in the company or whatever it is, we can invest in this one character and watch them change grow progress, as opposed to a bunch of you know, different characters, right?

Greg Williams:

Well, there's there's a lot in here and I don't want to leave it yet. And if there's still some items that you feel like could be helpful, whether they're examples to you know, illuminate some of these principles, or anything else that we haven't talked about here before we move on to a couple more items.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, I think I think the one thing I would say is under meaningful content creating identification is essential and essentially what that means is the the learner, here's their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own situation, they can see it reflected in the characters. And so I might even ask myself as I'm, you know, working through my design, what is my learner probably going to be thinking at this moment? What would they be feeling? What will be their objections? And then the take those and put those into the characters, right and in a way that is more subtle, but enough where they can definitely identify say, Oh, yeah, okay, this character gets how I how I think right?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, and I think that's such a valid and important point as to why doing a good analysis is is critical to any design projects It doesn't mean you have to go out and do a full blown like you know, qualitative research study necessarily for your learner's, but I remember, she was the second guest on my show came to me from Australia. And she's really been a great voice for talking about bringing kind of Human Centered Design and design thinking principles into the instructional design world. And I don't think any of those are necessarily new, but the way that she's talked about them, and that they're being talked about over the last five to 10 years has been really helpful. And something that she taught me was by simply asking thoughtful questions of your target population, they'll almost write the script for you of what you're Putting in your story, right? They'll talk about their objections or concerns. You know, if you do an empathy map, what they're thinking about, and you know what they're seeing and experiencing. And it almost writes that identification piece for you if you can listen closely and and craft that into your design.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, right. Yeah. I mean, there's, there's no, no question that the best storytellers are empathetic, that they can read an audience well, that they're alive to the concerns and needs of the people. They're talking about. I mean, that's why you can, you can watch a movie like up that is literally about a Boy Scout, and a grandpa and a dog. And, and just, it is so powerful, so emotional, because it the Pixar really knows what it's doing as far as creating moments of identification, right? I mean, that little vignette at the beginning of that movie that's just two minutes long. That is one of the best examples of, of narrative distance where no one speaks, everything is done indirectly through the behavior of the characters, where there's no morals brought, and we go through five minutes of this vignette of this couple's life. Right? And it's poignant, it's funny, it's emotional, it changes us. I mean, you almost think that the movie should end just right after that little clip right there. But then it continues to grow and work. And so yeah, absolutely. Like empathy is essential to good storytelling.

Greg Williams:

I love that example. because it reminds me of earlier when you're talking about emotional space, and how you didn't necessarily have to take a long time with those characters, and also what you're talking about with just spending time to identify, but just the, the way that those two, two and a half minutes, or whatever it is at the beginning of the movie up, build that emotional space so fast and identification with the grandpa so quickly, like, it's still the beginning of the movie, and you're like, wow, I see that old man character completely different.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Right? Yeah. And yeah, and and a great example of emotional space in that in that little those vignettes is when they find out that they won't be able to have any children, right, which is painful topic in and of itself. Rather than having overbearing dialogue. They just have. I can't remember her name. Is it, Ellie? Yeah, they just have her sitting in the front yard on a chair, and just suddenly weeping, right? And it's poignant, as opposed to, I'm gonna use another Star Wars example. I think it's episode two or three, with the prequels. And one of the characters says, You're breaking my heart, right? This is really over the top. And one of the rules of creating distance is to never express emotions through dialogue. Always express it through behavior. And subtly, because most people are actually don't express emotion, through their words very often, right? And you can if you work up to that moment, then it might work. But most often people are telling us how they feel very indirectly through their behavior. Right?

Greg Williams:

Hmm. Yeah, no, I'm glad you mentioned that. And I just watched episode two with with my eight year old so that that's definitely I think, one of the, one of the worst in terms of in terms of revealing through through dialogue, I think Episode Three is pretty bad, too. But

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

not not a lot of space in the prequels.

Greg Williams:

But nevertheless, I didn't I can't write Star Wars, so I can't slam it too much. Right, right. Right. Cool. So something else that you and I talked a little bit about, but I'm curious to learn more about the role of sequencing and time as it relates to instructional storytelling. We've talked a little bit about, you know, spending time with characters. And you know, how maybe you can speed up emotional, you know, emotional connection or identification with characters through the craft, like in the movie up, but what do you make of the the role of sequencing? And how does that relate it to these ideas?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, yeah. So sequencing is actually really important when it comes to creating emotional space, right? giving people the context and time to invest. But I mean, this may seem like the most obvious statement in the world, but I think there's a lot of profound implications from it. It's just this idea that learning is an event that takes place in time, not in space. And so often with instructional design, I mean, you know, during my master's, I learned classic Addie and then other designs going on through the rest of graduate school into the PhD and, and there isn't a lot of emphasis on what is the experience like, based on how we sequence the different learning modules or activities. And there's a sequence that has worked throughout time and it's called narrative, right? And it follows a really basic structure, Brad Hocus, and he talks about this. He says, I can remember But he talks about Joseph Campbell's sort of plotline in relationship to instructional design. But other than that, there hasn't been a ton. really talking about the value of understanding the sequence. And basic narrative sequence goes like this. And this applies, like very well to learning is there's a problem introduced. The problem is there, there's a solution that we try to find the problem, but we can't. So we take different avenues, try different solutions that don't work. The third step would be is that there's a key insight that comes along a regulatory moment, we then know what to do. And the fourth step would be we tried to apply that revelation to the insight to a situation where we overcome or obstacle in this climactic moment. And then the fifth step would be how is life different? Now? We call this the Daniel mall, right? How, how is everything different after we've gone through the struggle and overcome it, and that that sequence is powerful, it's emotional against people space, and it can be used in any type of domain, any type of domain, people can use that to create these sort of narrative, temporal experiences, as I'm learning, right?

Greg Williams:

Is there a role in in this as you've been looking? Because a lot of the examples, I think the the folks who interviewed and what you've been sharing, they feel that it's like any examples of content where something's being presented, and the audience or the learner? The viewer was sort of taking it in? Is there a role for interactivity, someone to make decisions inside the story? As it relates to some of what you've described here? Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

So depending on which aspect of narrative so as far as the the sequencing, I use that five step sequencing all of the time and my own designs and my own instruction. And so if I'm introducing a problem, I'll ask people, maybe what they think about the problem and where they're at on it, right? And then as we analyze it, I'll ask further questions. Well, why wouldn't this work? or How come this would work? Or what do you think about this, right? And then, so there's all along the way, you can have participation interaction, I often end my instruction very indirectly, and give my students time to think about that. And so the way and in my university classes at BYU, I often will have them write a journal about what they think about how they're making sense of the material, because they, you know, try to leave that open ended space at the end of instruction. And so that's the way that they interact with it. Sometimes people say, Well, why don't have them share what they're thinking right there in class. And there's a, I'm sure that there will be times when that would be helpful. But if students always know that someone is always going to explain to them a story, or parable, or a narrative or an example, then they won't do the cognitive work to try to make sense of it for themselves. So I often will have them go home and write something. And then if we want to talk about it later, we can. But I really, really want to give them a moment, to really have a chance to make sense of

Greg Williams:

it. But yeah, as you're saying that I have a better understanding of predicament, and I'm in I, I had this strange lofty moment where like, I need to read more poetry. I haven't done that, since who knows when when some teacher had me do it and write an essay, you know. So I got a collection of Robert Frost, and I've tried for the last two or three nights to read it. And I'm like, I need some man or woman to explain this to me, you know, who has insights to interpret this for me, and it's, it's because I've got to do that cognitive work. And it's very different to, to approach it from that angle. So that's cool to kind of hear how you're thinking about, yeah, you can tell a story, or share a story. But there's also ways to engage participants in the telling or sort of CO participate in in the overall and furling of where the story's going, I guess.

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Right, right. And depending on how my instruction is going, that in my own experience, and I've been doing this kind of teaching for about 10 or 11 years now. No question the students lean in the most listen the most engaged the most, when they know I'm not going to explain overall messages I I taught high school for a little while, religious classes in high school and I have had this memory of this kid who would sit in the back on his computer the whole time, until I got to the moment where he knew like the the direct instruction would end and then I would there was a clear break off. And I would say, Okay, I'm going to do an inductive sermon now. And they would go and he would and he would that's when he wouldn't lean it because he knew that I wasn't gonna explain it so he had to use his own mind to follow along right Hmm.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, no, it's That's fascinating. And I feel like everything we've been talking about today there's there's a lot of connections to things that I'm thinking Have the broader understanding of kind of what is what is learning. And you and I both have worked with Dr. Stephen EHR. He's been on this podcast. And you know, he has he had a phenomenal class all about that question of what learning is. And thinking about what you've been describing, it seems very closely tied to this, this idea of change. But you've also talked about transformative experiences. If we haven't talked about it yet, or if there's additional pieces, I mean, are there other ways that you see story as being a key influencer for change for transforming individuals through through the experience of the story?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Really good question. I'm actually I'm actually working on a piece right now I'm writing a piece right now about self deception, and storytelling. And it relies a lot on the work of Terry Warner, who's a Yale trained philosopher and his ideas were then adopted by the Harbinger Institute, you know, which a lot of your listeners probably have heard of, and read. And I'm sort of exploring what are the elements of story that allows someone to overcome self deception. And in the article, I include these these four points. But then I also had this fifth point of sort of becoming alive to the humanity and vulnerability of others. And that seems to be at least according to Warner's work. The key moment when I stopped lying to myself, and I start just being more truthful about the situations I'm in is when I stopped justifying coming up with excuses for being rude, mean lazy, whatever it is, and start seeing that the work I do what I'm involved with, there's there's other people who need me who rely on me, and I'm sort of alive to their humanity. And so what are the kinds of stories that sort of wake up people to that to that truth that other people count just as much as I counsel, I, the stories that really touch on the vulnerability and the humaneness of someone, like, are some of the most profoundly transformative stories, like a play, like Les Miz is an example of that, or a lot of Pixar is, you know, really connects with the human side that that aspect of us that has goals, desires, dreams, and it highlights those indirectly in the story.

Greg Williams:

I just finished watching onward with my daughter last week, yeah. been watching lots of movies with my kids lately. It's good times. And, and yeah, I really enjoyed that movie. And the way it included some, some elements to have me think differently about my own family, and what matters most. And in a conversation with, with some other designers a week or so ago, was thinking a lot about this idea of learning as change. And what you've described here the power of narrative to have you reflect on your own kind of values, you know, am I being truthful with myself and those around me? Do you see? Do you see much difference actually, between what you're describing here? And something like advertising or marketing, or persuasive writing or professional? speech? speech delivery? Like, are all these things, essentially the same thing? It's how can we help people change? Or maybe if it's a little less ethical, how can we make people change?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Right, yeah, you know, I, um, you know, people often will talk to me, when they hear I, you know, study storytelling and writing storytelling book about how what's the relationship between that and marketing and advertising and other fields? And there absolutely is. Like, connections, the often The problem is, is that marketing or advertising just, there's not a lot of emotional space, right? People can read through them very, very quick, quickly. There are commercials that like have moved on. So we've all experienced that, right? We can think of some right now, or that give us cognitive space without me leaving, like, wait, what is this that companies even sell? Like? That's, that's the thing that happens do right. And so, but now it's become sort of hip to do sentimental commercials, right? And so we have to, we have to hit even better, right? Those who are involved in marketing advertising have to think okay, now they sense that so how do I create even more emotional space right, and still have a powerful product doors or narrative to tell? I mean, there are some companies that are so good at creating narrative and an image who understand these basic principles that you know, you almost feel like you're taking up a whole new life story. When you buy an iPhone, you know, you feel young and beautiful and in your mid 20s, and living in a big See, because that's what all of their advertising is focused on. Is that kind of, you know, lifestyle? Maybe not completely, but at least a big part of it right? You know,

Greg Williams:

I'm gonna have to find this so that I'm not speaking lies here on the podcast. But to tell that idea, I remember hearing that they've done studies that have validated the evidence that folks who are using Nike golf gear actually do golf better because of the psychological effect the brand has on on their identity as their golfing. I hope that's true. Yeah. And so I mean, it goes back to you know, what you're talking about with that identity of an organization, whether that's religious affiliation, or a company or a brand. That can be really powerful form of shaping how people choose to choose to act or choose, you know, or don't choose, it's more of the way that they're acting in accordance to just what they feel like they value and how to fit in with the group stuff. And this has been a really great conversation, and where can people learn more about some of your work? And maybe some of the topics that we've talked about?

Dr. Stephan Taeger:

Yeah, so my website is Stephan tager, calm super original website there. And there's links to a lot of my academic writings on narrative distance. And then I also provide links to books about about homiletics and narrative teaching, and well, mostly homiletics. And so but you can find links to other narrative teaching things and my academic work as well. So yeah.

Greg Williams:

Wonderful. This is great. And, again, thank you for your time. I've really enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Great. I've created show notes for links to resources and more. So check that out. And you can influence the direction of the podcast and keep it going by lending your [email protected] slash LX leader. There are so many things to process, apply the test out and debate in these conversations. But I feel like I'm only scratching the surface. social learning is real folks. And so let's learn together. I invite you to join the conversation by following the learning experience leader LinkedIn page, which is linked in the show notes. I hope to see you there soon. Until next time, keep learning