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Virtual Learning : A Revolutionary Approach to Building a Highly Skilled Workforce,  Roger C. Schank, 1997.

Tell Me a Story : Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory), Roger C. Schank, et al, 1995.

The Schank Tank.” David H. Freedman, Wired 2.08, August 1994.

Tales of the Dervishes : Teaching-Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years, Idries Shah, 1993.

On the Nature of Sufi Knowledge : A Lecture plus Teaching Stories and Narratives, Idries Shah, Audio Cassette, 1997.

The Healing Blanket : Stories, Values and Poetry from Ojibwe Elders and Teachers, Gina Jones, et al, June 2000.

Wisdom of the Elders : Sacred Native Stories of Nature, David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, 1993.

Spider Woman's Granddaughters : Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women, Paula G. Allen (Editor), 1990.

The Fifth Discipline : The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter M. Senge, 1994.

CAMPFIRE STORIES, Volume 1: Things That Go Bump in the Night, William W. Forgey M.D., 1985.

The Power of Personal Storytelling : Spinning Tales to Connect With Others, Jack Maguire, 1998.

eLearning, so far, is an interesting experiment and a successful failure. Many people now use it, and some learning takes place. It fails, however, because most of the program developers have not yet learned to take advantage of all the channels of graphical and sensory input that the PC makes available. They have failed to open “The Mind’s Eye” of the learner. And it’s in that opening that the real learning takes place.

What does “In the Mind’s Eye” mean?

It simply means being able to see yourself in the learning, being able to enter the learning and use your imagination to participate in the story or the lesson. That’s why elearning has not received rave reviews from people trying to use it. It’s too impersonal, too hard to find an entry point, not close enough to where they are.

The exceptions are the best learners, the ones who have learned how to learn, who instinctively or artfully know how to insinuate themselves into the content, and see themselves in the learning. Unfortunately, these most imaginative and creative learners are the exceptions. Have you ever watched children who live in groups where the oral tradition was still a strong and preferred method of teaching? Watch their faces someday during the telling of a lesson and you’ll quickly understand the meaning of the word “rapt” as it applies to attention and learning. eLearners seldom find that experience.

Where does this idea of “being in the learning” come from?

Being in the learning is as old as storytelling and the oral tradition of learning, which is far older than the written tradition. Great storytellers were—and still are—trained to use all the senses of the audience to pull them into the story. Today, certain groups who have retained this tradition carry it on beautifully, people like the Sufis and Native Americans. They have a wonderful tradition of being able to do this with their stories. The same process makes a campfire story wonderful. You can place yourself into the tale, identify with a character. You enter that zone called “suspension of disbelief.” We agree to let go of this reality and enter another reality created by the storyteller. It could be a story told by a village elder, a story told by a good writer or even a play or a film. The point is the same—you open The Mind’s Eye and you and the story are joined. If the story is a lesson about the creation of your tribe, or why you shouldn’t feel bad if you are different, or how to measure the height of a tree or the potion that the Witches brewed in Macbeth, the end result, a deep and resonant learning, is the same. That’s what we’re striving for when we create all the curricula and lessons and courses for this newest form of knowledge transfer we call “elearning.”

Yet, with most of the elearning we create, we do not seem to know how to do this. Part of the reason is that the learners cannot find their way into the learning. We fail to open The Mind’s Eye. How can elearning enable this opening? Some of the better teachers are very adept at doing this and I believe that’s why teacher and instructor-based learning are still so popular and will remain that way well into the future. When you give a teacher some learning tools—the books and overheads and other resources—in a very real sense they ‘finish it’ for each learner. People often say about the best teachers, “They made me feel like I was the only person in the room,” “They found time for me; they helped me learn,” or “They brought the lesson alive.” In effect, these teachers helped the learners find themselves in the learning. They acted as guides.

One of the people spending a lot of time looking at this notion of The Mind’s Eye is Roger Schank. In his books Tell Me a Story and Virtual Learning, he looks at ways of placing the learner in the learning, and using storytelling as a path for this process. He makes a distinction between “natural learning” and “training.” Jaron Lanier also looks at this notion. He recently gave a keynote address at OnLine 2000 in Denver and, during his presentation, provided one of my favorite quotes. He said that what we need to do is “… find ways to seduce the learner into the digital learning space, and then provide them with the tools they need, the resources, for learning.” It summed it up for me in many ways and made me realize how far elearning in particular has to go. When was the last time you felt seduced to enter the digital learning space and then to take advantage of the resources at hand to learn something? For me it was when I tried to beat my twelve-year old nephew Brian at a game called Doom.

What is the answer? Where do we go from here?

The big challenge is how do we create a real one-to-one learning experience in which each learner can find himself or herself in the learning. How do we replicate what the best teachers have been doing for thousands of years and help the learner enter the learning space? One-to-many learning does not work except as a job aid. Most people I’ve spoken with who said they got something from a web-based training (WBT) program used it like an electronic performance support (EPSS) program. They dipped in and took what they needed and left. So, the people who designed these programs, and the people who track their usage, are all upset because less than half the users tend to finish an entire program. So what? They got what they came for.

The question remains, “How can we create that one-to-one environment using the computer?” A tailored or custom-developed program comes closer, but actually works best when blended with instructor led-training (ILT). That magic of opening The Mind’s Eye still only seems to happen with a teacher or instructor to help make that bridge for the learner to enter the learning. There may yet be a way to get the teacher in the box. Roger Schank’s team at the Institute of the Learning Sciences at Northwestern created a computer-based program for Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry called The Sickle Cell Counselor. It comes as close to any answer as I’ve ever seen. To learn more, see a great story by David Freedman from Wired on the program and Schank.

I’ll leave you with a Sufi story that Peter Senge told in The Fifth Discipline. You’re walking along the street and you pass a drunk on his hands and knees under a streetlight. You offer to help and discover that the drunk is looking for his house keys. After several minutes you ask, “Where did you drop them?” and the drunk replies “Over by my door.” “Then why,” you ask “are you looking for them here?” The drunk replies, “Because there is no light by my doorway.”

So the answer is off somewhere in the darkness, in the future of learning in the new economy. We just need to make sure we are asking the right questions first, and then not looking for the easy answers where the light is already shining. If the keys were there, then we wouldn’t be on our hands and knees searching for them.

David Grebow works with the IBM Mindspan Solutions Strategy & Alliances Team as a Learning Futurist. He is passionate about finding the most effective ways of helping people learn in the workplace, and having people understand that the workplace is NOT the schoolplace where we all grew up as Learners.  You can reach him at



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