How a Simple Narrative Can Enhance Your Digital Coaching

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re living your life as an exquisite songbird in a cage. Each morning at sunrise, you sing your beautiful melody to the world. Except your world is a wire cage, in a small apartment room with a closed window. People come and go, they bring you food and water, perhaps they even stop to talk to you. And at the end of the day, the light gets turned off again and darkness falls.

How are you showing up in the world like a caged songbird? What does this mean to you? What is your cage? And who are the people around you?

Now imagine an alternative reality, one where you show up as an eagle, wild and free. With an impressive wingspan, the eagle soars high above the earth, its beady eyes spotting prey far below. It’s the king of the avian world and its striking call reverberates across the valley.

What possibilities might open up for you if you lived your life like an eagle? How would you go about your day? What might you do differently? How would this feel?

Explore multiple new perspectives

A simple narrative, like that of the songbird or eagle, is a potent coaching tool that can be used to bring multiple new perspectives into the forefront of the learner’s mind. It can stimulate an emotional response, such as joy or vulnerability, or in this case the desire to break free from a set of constraints. When we’re immersed in a problem, it can be difficult to see ourselves as separate from it, but through the storyteller’s lens, we can explore our reality from a comfortable distance.

“We’re wired for story – stories take big ideas, abstract facts and dry concepts and transform them into something personal, specific and concrete. Thus they allow us to experience the way those facts would affect us, in action, in our lives,” says Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story.

A narrative, as applied to digital coaching, could take the form of a short story followed by a set of questions to unpack the model that underpins it, from the learner’s perspective. A learning experience designer might also use a short video clip, a mini business case study, a parable or even a powerful image. Each of these can help to take the learner’s thinking in a new direction.

By helping learners to integrate new knowledge and shift mental models, narratives can provide a more immersive learning experience and increased learner engagement. Narratives have the power to change how we see the world and activate behavior change.

6 tips on using narratives in your automated coaching program

1. Make sure the narrative is relevant. If a brown cardboard box isn’t enticingly wrapped and labeled with your name on it, you might just pass it by without a second glance. And you’ll miss out on the wonderful gift inside. Likewise, learners need to see the relevance of a new idea before they can start to unpack it.

2. Keep the learning outcomes in mind. A narrative should always link back to your learning objectives. What is it that the learner needs to see or do differently in order to achieve the desired behavior? How will the narrative help them to do this?

3. Present the narrative in a conversational way. Invite the learner to discuss a new way of seeing something; engage with them in a dynamic, informal and interactive flow of ideas and information.

4. Ask the learner to unpack the narrative, don’t do it for them. Give them the framework, then allow them to flesh out the details so that it’s their story. Personalized learning construction inspires learners to think for themselves and feel invested in the outcomes.

5. Explore the narrative from a cognitive, emotional and somatic point of view. How does the learner think, feel and react physically to the narrative? What patterns are they starting to see? What becomes possible if they start to embody this new narrative?

6. Don’t neglect the other characters in the story. Understanding your patterns of thinking or behavior is just one part of the narrative. Seeing how they influence, and are influenced by, the people around you starts to tell a much richer story.

Humans are primed to learn from the lessons embedded in stories and to adapt these to make sense of their personal experiences. Narratives help the learner construct meaning out of new ideas, putting the learner back in the center of the learning process.

How could narratives be used to create a more immersive learning experience in your digital coaching programs?