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Storytelling: A key to adult learning

Dissertation
Author: Luke E. Yackley
Abstract:
This Executive Position Paper examines how storytelling contributes to adult learning and learning as transformation. A problem for facilitators of adult learning classes is there is very little time to create a learning environment. The time allocated for classes is too short and participants often do not remember much from the programs. I had experienced first-hand the power of storytelling, but wanted to find out why its impact was so powerful. I wanted to determine what it is about storytelling that facilitates learning. Qualitative Methodology was used to explore the effect of storytelling on adult learning. This project included exploration of the ways storytelling as a medium helped adults negotiate curriculum content in the Supervisory Development Program that was intended to facilitate their development of supervisory skills. Brookfield (1995) recommended listening to adult learners to find out what they wanted. After listening to these twenty-two participants, clearly the message is storytelling situates learners in a transformative learning experience. Using stories to improve learning costs nothing, yet it returns bountiful benefits. Adult learners remember more and what they learn becomes a part of them as they become a part of the lesson. Stories engage the mind of the learner.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT……………………………………………….………………...….. vii INTRODUCTION… ……… …………… ….. …………………………………………1 Overview…………………………………………………………………...2 Significance…………………………………………………………...……2 Study Problem……………………………………………………………...3

BACKGROUND REVIEW… . …………………………………………………….5 Use of Stories throughout History………………………………………....5 Adult Learning……………………………………………...…………….. 9 Storytelling in the Today’s Real World Setting…………………………. 14 Learning as Transformation…………………………………………..…. 18

DEVELOPING THE USE OF STORYTELLING WITH ADULTS……………..24 Purpose of the Study…………………………………………………...….24 Development Work………………………………………………………. 25 Methodology……………………………………………………………... 25 Practical and Ethical Considerations……………………………………...30

THE PARTICIPANT’S RESPONSES…………….……………………………...30 Results…………………………………………………………….………30 Question # 1……………………………………………………………… 31 Engaged the Audience…………………………………………… 31 The Use of Humor……………………………………………….. 33 They Told Stories………………………………………………... 33 Question # 2……………………………………………………………… 35 Situated Learning………………………………………………… 35 Transformative Experience……………...……………………….. 38 Use of Stories.................................................................................. 40 Question # 3…...…………………………………………………………..42 Situated Learning………………………………………………… 43 Transformative Experiences……...…………………………….…45 Use of Stories……………………………………………………...46 Caring Individuals………………………………...……………….49 Negative Experiences……………………………………………...50 Question # 4…………………………………………………...…………..50 Situated Learning….........................................................................52 Transformative Experience………………………………………..54 Use of Stories……………………………………………………...54 Question # 5……………………………………………………………….57 Situated Learning………………………………………………….57 Transformative Experience…..........................................................57

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Use of Stories………………………….…………………………..58

PLANNED USE OF THE FINDINGS…………………………………………...59 REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………....61 APPENDICES………..…………………………………………………………. .66 Appendix A: Five Levels of Evaluation…………………………...…….. 66 Appendix B: Protocol……………………………………………………..67 Appendix C: Informed Consent Form………………………………….....69 Appendix D: Institutional Review Board Assurance…….……………..…71 Appendix E: Other Interesting Comments to Question # 5……..………...73 Appendix F: Prospectus on the Use of Storytelling……………………….76 Appendix G: Implementation Design Outline…………………………….79

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ABSTRACT

This Executive Position Paper examines how storytelling contributes to adult learning and learning as transformation. A problem for facilitators of adult learning classes is there is very little time to create a learning environment. The time allocated for classes is too short and participants often do not remember much from the programs. I had experienced first-hand the power of storytelling, but wanted to find out why its impact was so powerful. I wanted to determine what it is about storytelling that facilitates learning. Qualitative Methodology was used to explore the effect of storytelling on adult learning. This project included exploration of the ways storytelling as a medium helped adults negotiate curriculum content in the Supervisory Development Program that was intended to facilitate their development of supervisory skills. Brookfield (1995) recommended listening to adult learners to find out what they wanted. After listening to these twenty-two participants, clearly the message is storytelling situates learners in a transformative learning experience. Using stories to improve learning costs nothing, yet it returns bountiful benefits. Adult learners remember more and what they learn becomes a part of them as they become a part of the lesson. Stories engage the mind of the learner.

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Man is always a storyteller! He lives by his and other’s myths. With them he sees everything in his life, no matter what befalls him. And he seeks to live his life as though he were telling it. -Sartre INTRODUCTION Storytelling transforms the listener to become a part of the experience as they listen to the person telling the story. Storytelling, simply engaging the audience on a personal level, is the advice a son gave his father on the campaign trail. “It was supposed to be John Kerry’s coming out party. But then Bill Clinton took the stage to introduce the all-but-crowned nominee at a dinner for Democrats in Washington last spring, and delivered a speech so electrifying the crowd nearly forgot Kerry was there. Afterward, at his Georgetown home, Kerry stewed as he packed for a trip. His stepson, Chris Heinz, 31, and nephew Jose Ferreira, 35, lounged around Kerry’s dressing room offering more than fashion advice. “Clinton had a lot of energy and we didn’t,” Chris said. “You need to do some simple storytelling (my emphasis) that he does so well.” Kerry agreed he’d fallen short (Meadows and Gegax, 2004, p. 43).

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Overview In this Executive Position Paper (EPP), I will focus on storytelling. I will examine adult learning, learning as transformation, and the use of stories as a method to improve adult learning. As I started to think about my area of focus for this EPP, I thought back on what I had learned while doing patient education classes on the medical consequences of substance abuse. Countless times, when former patients would see me, invariably, they would remember a story I told them to illustrate the material. Significance I work for the Veterans Administration (VA) in a non-clinical position as an Education Specialist for the Employee Education System. My current responsibility is developing and facilitating education programs for the employees in VISN 1 5, the National Capitol Network. For about four years, as I facilitated the education programs for these adult learners, I observed the same phenomenon occurred: when the facilitator told stories, the employees enjoyed the sessions more, evaluated speakers more positively, and indicated they remembered more. After some programs were completed, the staff conducted follow-up evaluations six-months and one year later. The sections that the participants rated as most memorable were the ones in which facilitators told stories to illustrate their message. The employees reported they were incorporating this material in their work-a-day lives. The opposite was also

1 Veterans Integrated Service Network is abbreviated as VISN. There are 22 VISN or Regions in the US and its territories. VISN 5 includes the VA facilities in Maryland, Washington DC, and part of West Virginia

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found: the facilitators who presented their material without stories were not rated as positively, nor were they listed as the most memorable. Similarly employees did not report they were incorporating this material into their work-a-day lives. I observed how storytelling worked in practice. The learner became active in the process. I observed that telling stories did not just entertain the adult learner; the stories seemed to be why adults learned. Recently, I ran into a former patient who was celebrating 10 years of recovery. He told me the stories that I had told in my class helped him to maintain his sobriety. He was able to gather images in his memory from the stories I related, and these vivid images helped him not to take another drink. Study Problem This EPP examines how storytelling contributes to adult learning and learning as transformation. A problem facilitators of adult learning classes encounters is very little time to create a learning environment. The time allotted for the class is too short and participants often do not remember much from the programs. The human brain constantly searches for patterns. We listen to music and pick up the melody. Even if someone does a different arrangement of the same song, we listen for similar patterns. As we listen to stories, the brain weaves together patterns, interpreting complicated information, abstract ideas, and moral judgments. We can think of the brain as a computer. Just as we save random information on a computer, which we input by typing in symbols, the brain collates data that we can later retrieve and use. Stories are a way we accumulate information that we then integrate to understand and apply the lessons to other situations (Slan, 1998).

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When we listen to a story being told, the brain must be actively engaged to process the information. As we hear a story, the brain actively fabricates the scene and character and acts them out on the stage in our brains. Obviously, each person constructs a different stage and our characters will probably look different, but we construct the scene that will be meaningful and relevant to each of us in a highly personal way. We integrate the process thus increasing cognition (Slan, 1998). Wineburg (2004) wonderfully illustrates the gist of the problem with many adult education sessions. He describes his first-time attendance at the American Education Research Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 1985. He graphically tells the story of his building anticipation to “hear up close and personal the researchers whose work I worshiped in yellow and pink highlights” (p. 13). He describes the day and the electricity in the crowded room as he waited to hear the “four luminaries” who were there to speak on the latest developments in research on teaching. The first speaker read directly from her notes without barely looking up. When told she was running out of time, she accelerated her rate to “300 WPM, racing against the clock to get through the remaining five pages” (p. 13). She ignored the chair when told her time was up and went over her time limit. The second speaker was described as slightly better, for instead of reading the talk, he showed slides. “‘Show’ is euphemistic: He fired slides like an Uzi fires rounds” (Wineburg, 2004, p. 13). Wineburg describes how he was feeling, “Maybe I was the dim-witted one, unable to absorb the information presented to me by the world’s leading lights” (p. 13). He describes looking around the room at his fellow

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audience members. “To a person, they had their programs out, quietly shuffling through the pages, dog-earing ones that looked interesting, and busily planning the rest of their day” (p. 13). The author (Wineburg, 2004) states, this was 1985, and except for the use of PowerPoint slides today, “little has changed. Famous (infamous?) researchers still read their papers, panelists still fail to engage their audience, and many people continue to shake their heads about how a group of educators serve as such poor examples of teaching” (p. 14). The next section of this proposal will examine how storytelling could facilitate and increase adult learning. BACKGROUND REVIEW Use of Stories throughout History Storytelling is the oldest form of communication (Gabriel, 1999). “Humans are storytelling organisms who, individually and collectively, lead storied lives. Thus, the study of narrative is the study of the ways humans experience the world” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 2). Still today, when we meet someone, we begin to tell them stories about ourselves. For when we tell another person about ourselves, we allow them into our world. “Stories illustrate the text of our lives. They go beyond facts into feelings. They engage the whole of us—our minds and our hearts” (Gabriel, 1999, p. 1). According to Forest (2000), we use listening, observing, remembering, and practicing as the primary ways that we learn basic skills from early childhood on.

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The author explains how these skills were essential in learning survival skills in prehistoric, pre-literate ages. Today, many of the same skills are still taught by these same functional tools. Forest (2000) lists these ancient skills which are still taught the same way today: walking, swimming, dancing, language acquisition, use of tools, preparation of food, making of attire, decoration, construction of housing and hunting/gathering, etc. Even though today we have easily available printed media, Internet access, videos, and even though there have been huge progressive strides secondary to the journey of modern media, the simple acts of listening, observing, remembering, and practicing remain the foundation of teaching skills in all areas of education and at every level. (Forest, 2000) Storytelling has played a significant role in history. Throughout history, each new generation learned lessons from those who came before them through stories that were handed down from generation to generation. Novelist Jean M. Auel (1980), in her Earth’s Children ™ series, describes what life was like 35,000 years ago based on her extensive research of surviving artifacts. Auel describes “Men’s Stories” of hunts and exploration, and “Women’s Stories”, which told of legends about healing and the development of traditions. In Western Africa, there is a very early legend told by griots, West African storytellers, about how Kwaku-Ananse the spider earned the Sky God’s stories. He paid the price and according to the declaration of the Sky God, “Therefore, today and forever I make a gift of my stories to Ananse the spider, and now they shall be known as Spider Stories!” (Philip, 1995, p. 71). Spider Stories are used by the Ashanti, an

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indigenous group still living in the densely forested area of Ghana, to pass on their collected wisdom and truths. Stories contain the power of explaining phenomenon in ways that help people comprehend what they do not understand. Carl Jung suggests that we have a “collective unconscious” (Jung, 1968), a common understanding of certain ideas, thoughts, and concepts among all people, regardless of race, culture, and ethnicity. This collective unconscious is evidenced through tales and legends told all over the world. In every culture you’ll find stories of heroes and heroines (triumph over danger and evil), of warriors (bravery, loyalty, and faith), and of ‘mother’ (nurturing, unconditional love, protection). Poet Muriel Rukeyser (1992) explains it this way, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms” (p. 135). Today we think of Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Ridinghood as children’s stories, but their initial audience was adults. Perrault, the master of this genre [fairy tales], did indeed take his material from the oral traditions of the common people (his principal source probably was his son’s nurse). But he touched it up so that it would suit the taste of the salon sophisticates, précieuses, and courtiers to whom he directed the first printed version of Mother Goose, his Contes de ma mère l’oye of 1697 (Darnton, 1984, p. 11). Knowles (1990) lists nine notable great teachers from ancient history. “The adult learner has been a neglected species. This is especially surprising in view of the fact that all of the great teachers of ancient times –Confucius and Lao Tse of China;

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the Hebrew prophets and Jesus in Biblical times; Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato in ancient Greece; and Cicero, Evelid, and Quintillian in ancient Rome--were all teachers of adults, not children” (p. 27). He goes on to explain that since they were all teachers of adults, “They perceived learning to be a process of active inquiry, not passive reception of transmitted content” (Knowles, 1990, p. 27). He then recognizes these great teachers “invented techniques for actively engaging learners in inquiry” (Knowles, 1990, p. 27). Not only did all nine of these notable great teachers address adult learners, they all used stories or parables to illustrate their messages. Jesus used parables to illustrate his message. If you grew-up in the Christian tradition, you remember learning the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Prodigal Son. Historians believe Jesus died around 33 A.D. The first epistle writer in the New Testament is Paul, who penned his first letter around 50 A.D., about twenty years after Jesus was crucified. For the next 20 years, there was no written gospel of Jesus’ life. Biblical scholars believe that in the interval between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel by Mark, the disciples were telling stories of what they had witnessed or had heard. The disciples were passing on the tradition of what happened to Jesus, what he stood for and what he did, by telling and retelling the story (White, 1998). Parallel stories are found in these ancient collections of stories. The story of the Prodigal Son appears in Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament. There is a Buddhist parallel in the Buddhist literature classic, Sutra of a Hundred Parables, the major writings of Mahayana Buddhism. “Although both parables seem to convey a similar

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message regarding God’s compassion for humans, a closer look will reveal a fundamental difference in their teaching and consequently between Christianity and Buddhism” (Valea, 1999, p. 1). The wisdom of Confucius is included in The Analects. The text covers codes of behavior, parables, and commentary. It rests on the foundation of comprehending the proper way of doing things, the way of the superior man (New Albion Press, 2003). Adult Learning The next context I want to explore is adult learning. The focus of my studies at the University of Delaware has been on theories about adult learning. Kolb (1984) describes the adult learning process as a four-phase cycle in which the learner: 1) does something concrete or has a specific experience which provides a basis for 2) the learner’s evaluation and reflection on the experience and their own response to it. These observations are then 3) assimilated into a conceptual framework or related to other concepts in the learner’s past experience and knowledge from which implications for action to be derived; and 4) tested and applied in different situations (p. 1). In an attempt to formulate a comprehensive adult learning theory, Malcolm Knowles, (1970), published the book The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species.

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Building on the earlier work of Lindeman, Knowles asserted that adults require certain conditions to learn. He borrowed the term andragogy to define and explain the conditions. Knowles (1990) believed the better one understood the various learning theories, the better decisions one would make regarding learning experiences, which would in turn guide one to the ends you wished to achieve. Knowles observed, “We know more about how animals (especially rodents and pigeons) learn than about how children learn; and we know much more about how children learn than about how adults learn” (Knowles, 1990, p. 11). Knowles explains why we should even explore theory, especially a learning theory. He believes adult learners have to be engaged in what they are learning or they will soon lose interest. He uses the inquiry method term to describe this type of interaction, but states it has also been called the discovery method, self-directed learning, or problem-solving learning. He cites Postman and Weingartener (1969) on how to use this method. “He emphatically does not view questions as a means of seducing students into parroting the text or syllabus: rather, he sees questions as instruments to open engaged minds to unsuspected possibilities” (Quoted by Knowles, 1990, p. 92). After examining both the concepts of theory and learning, he proclaims how important they are to those who want to learn about adult education. He ends a chapter in this book, with this promise, “Until recently, educators of adults have been wallowing around in this same morass (understanding learning theory), and after wallowing around in it a bit more ourselves, we’ll see how adult educators are beginning to extricate themselves” (Knowles, 1990, p. 10).

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Knowles adopted the term andragogy in 1970 with the release of his book, The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Andragogy to Pedagogy. (1970) Knowles’ conclusions are contained in these four points: a) Adults need to know why they are learning something. They should be told how it affects them directly. b) Adults have a repository of lifetime experiences that should be tapped as a resource for ongoing learning. Similarly, adult learners bring various levels of prior exposure to any topic and that fact should be acknowledged. c) Adults use a hands-on problem-solving approach to learning. Rote memorization of facts and figures should be avoided. d) Adults want to apply new knowledge and skills immediately. Retention decreases if the learning is applied only at some future point in time. Knowles includes group dynamics and “creating an atmosphere of adultness” in his principles for adult learning. As Knowles cites, here is “a skeletal description of my andragogical model development. It is based on the assumptions about adults as learners and incorporates features of various prevailing theories that make sense to me” (Knowles, 1990, p. 118). By 1990 Knowles expanded what he found to be the characteristics of adult learners: a) Adults are autonomous and self-directed.

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b) Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect this knowledge/experience base. c) Adults are goal-oriented. d) Adults are relevancy-oriented. e) Adults are practical. f) Adults need to be shown respect. (Knowles, 1990) I believe the spirit of Knowles’ book (1990) is captured in a quote which expresses how I see storytelling being used in adult education. Knowles quotes Ruth Merton, the director of the Education Department, Milwaukee Y.W.C.A., “[T]he quickest way to achieve this desirable state (a feeling of comradeship in learning) is through laughter in which all can join. And so I say again that, if we are really wise, we teachers . . . will, despite taxes or indigestion, teach merrily!” (Knowles, 1990, p. 36). Ruth Merton captures the spirit good teachers want to engender to create a learning environment. A basic definition of learning is provided by Smith (1991) “Our discussion here assumes learning, from the most fundamental to complex, to be (1) any increase in knowledge, (2) memorizing information, (3) acquiring knowledge for practical use, (4) abstracting meaning from what we do, and (5) a process that allows us to understand” (p. 11). Brookfield (1995) advances this concept, “Adults possess a self-conscious awareness of how it is they come to know what they know; an awareness of reasoning,

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assumptions, evidence, and justifications that underlie our beliefs that something is true” (p. 5). Zemke and Zemke (1984) explain why this is true; “Adults bring a great deal of life experiences into the classroom, an invaluable asset to be acknowledged, tapped and used. Adults learn well – and much – from dialogue with respected peers” (p. 2). Lave and Wenger explain that learning involves the whole person as an aspect of the social practice of learning and living. Not only is it in relation to specific activities, but in relation to social communities. It implies that the learner becomes a full participant, a member of the community of practice. “A community of practice is a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 98). Being a member of this community involves participation in an activity system where participants interact by sharing their understanding of what they are doing and what it means to them and to their community. Lave and Wenger described the learning process produced by this immersion. “[R]ather than learning by replicating the performances of others or by acquiring knowledge transmitted in instruction, we suggest that learning occurs through centripetal participation in the learning curriculum of the ambient community” (p. 100). I have examined storytelling and adult learning separately. In the next section, the task will be to join these two concepts.

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Storytelling in the Today’s Real World Setting Theories about adult learning have this in common: Adults have a desire to be active participants in their learning. “In connection with adult education, narrative can be understood as an orientation that carries with it implications for both method and content” (Rossiter, 2002, p. 1). What storytelling or the use of narratives accomplishes is to invite the learner into the process of being educated. “The idea of the narrative is fertile ground for adult educators who know intuitively the value of stories in teaching and learning. Narrative is deeply appealing and richly satisfying to the human soul, with an allure that transcends cultures, centuries, ideologies, and academic disciplines” (Rossiter, 2002, p. 1). To illustrate how storytelling is useful in adult learning, I will give three examples of how storytelling is being used successfully today, not as an adjunct to the process but as an integral part of the process. The three areas I will examine are: twelve step self-help programs, the healing of emotional wounds, and corporate training practices. Twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) use stories to help chemically dependent individuals achieve recovery. Speaker Meetings are a type of meeting attended by those who are seeking recovery. Usually at a Speaker Meeting one or two recovering alcoholics/addicts stand before the group, introduce themselves and tell their “stories”. The use of stories is explained in the fifth chapter of The Big Book 2 , the chapter simply titled,

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The official title is Alcoholic Anonymous

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“How It Works”. In the second paragraph, the reader discovers what Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of AA, felt to be a core practice for recovery, “Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened and what we are like now” (Alcoholic Anonymous, 1973, p. 57). Traditionally, the story is told to the group for two reasons: the first is so that the speaker remembers, by telling his or her own story, how bad it was while he or she was still active in his or her addiction. The second reason is for the audience to learn from the speaker so that they do not have to experience the same consequences themselves. Another keystone for Twelve Step Programs is having a sponsor. A sponsor is another non-using alcoholic/addict, who helps a person stay clean and sober. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, who co-founded AA, found that together they could achieve sobriety when they could not stay sober alone. The phrase, “Together we can do what I can’t.” is often heard inside the rooms at AA and NA meetings. Originally, when a new person came into AA, a member who had at least a year of recovery, would come up to the new person, and tell them they were going to be his/her sponsor. Today, usually a person asks another recovering individual to be his/her sponsor. The sponsor’s sole role is to help the other person stay sober. Sponsors talk with the person they sponsor on a regular basis. Usually, the person who is sponsored tells his or her sponsor what was going on in their lives and what he/she was planning to do in the next couple of days. More in the past, the sponsor would listen patiently, and then tell a story about what happened to them when they experienced a similar scenario and how it turned out. For example, the

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sponsored person would tell their sponsor he/she was planning to go on a family picnic over the Fourth of July, sharing the detail that there would probably be alcohol there. The sponsor would tell the story of how when they were trying to get sober, they tried the same thing, and usually ended up drinking again. The sponsored person then had to make a choice; prudence would imply they did not attend the picnic, but it was still a choice they had to make. Some of them based their decision on the story told to them by the sponsor. Even today, some sponsors use the same tactic. In the rooms (“In the rooms” is a colloquialism used by members of 12-Step programs for lessons a person might hear in the rooms where AA/NA meetings are held), they are referred to as “feather dusters”. Feather dusters are sponsors who gently guide their charge by offering suggestions. Versus “rock throwers”, who are sponsors who verbally knock the sponsored individual over the head to even think they might be ready to attend a function, like the family picnic mentioned above, where there will probably be alcohol. In the rooms, a metaphor for this lesson is contained in this oft-repeated colloquialism, “If you hang around a barbershop long enough you are going to get a hair-cut.” The second area where stories are employed as a powerful tool today is healing. Laurnet and Moody (1984) found that storytelling can be used to motivate people toward good health behaviors. “All sorrows can be bourne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” (Isak Dinesen, quoted in Arendt, 1959, p. 175). A qualitative study conducted by a nurse-researcher, found that storytelling was a

Full document contains 89 pages
Abstract: This Executive Position Paper examines how storytelling contributes to adult learning and learning as transformation. A problem for facilitators of adult learning classes is there is very little time to create a learning environment. The time allocated for classes is too short and participants often do not remember much from the programs. I had experienced first-hand the power of storytelling, but wanted to find out why its impact was so powerful. I wanted to determine what it is about storytelling that facilitates learning. Qualitative Methodology was used to explore the effect of storytelling on adult learning. This project included exploration of the ways storytelling as a medium helped adults negotiate curriculum content in the Supervisory Development Program that was intended to facilitate their development of supervisory skills. Brookfield (1995) recommended listening to adult learners to find out what they wanted. After listening to these twenty-two participants, clearly the message is storytelling situates learners in a transformative learning experience. Using stories to improve learning costs nothing, yet it returns bountiful benefits. Adult learners remember more and what they learn becomes a part of them as they become a part of the lesson. Stories engage the mind of the learner.