Reflections from Online Learning Consortium “Accelerate”

Online Learning Consortium PowellThe recent Online Learning Consortium (OLC) conference featured sessions focused on a variety of professional development and best practices-related topics, including: innovations, tools and technologies; institutional strategies and globalization; learner services and support; learning effectiveness; professional development and support; and research. Two that stood out were “The Power of Storytelling to Inspire and Engage” by Matthew Luhn from Pixar and “Human Exploration from Earth to Mars: Becoming Interplanetary” by Dr. Dava Newman from NASA and MIT.

Luhn’s presentation on the power of storytelling was especially powerful, with noteworthy takeaways including the following key principles for engaging the audience or customer:

  • “The job of the storyteller is to make you feel something and to go through the transformation of yourself with the character(s).”
  • “The stories you tell about your company end up painting you as a hero or a villain. You need to make sure you’re the one in control of your story.”
  • “People are not going to remember what you say or what you do. They are going to remember how you made them feel.”
  • “To inspire people to change, tell stories of how others have changed in a positive way. . . . this moves others to change.”
  • “Always know who you audience is and who you need to connect with. . . To connect a lot of people use veiled themes like those built on fear and desire, wanting to accomplish an impossible dream, etc.”
  • “Stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end, whether they are 30 seconds or 90 minutes.”
  • “Great innovation is about trying things that don’t work.”

Luhn noted that “story is twenty-two times more memorable than facts alone.” So how is this relevant for us in higher education? As teachers? As administrators? He emphasized that “great teachers tell stories and inspire learning.”

Related questions we need to reflect upon as educators include: How do or might we inspire our students by engaging the story of our disciplines and practice with their life stories? How do we inspire creativity and create learning environments that inspire innovation? How do we embrace failure as a significant step in the creative process and reward the innovation and efforts that emerge? This presentation was inspiring and uplifting, as well as challenging us as educators to embrace our power as storytellers.

The Friday keynote by Dr. Dava Newman personified the power of storytelling as she told the story of human exploration from Earth to the Moon and Mars through pictures and associated examples of attempts, trials, and failures. Her deep NASA knowledge and experience focused our attention on the three fundamental questions NASA studies: “Are we alone? Do habitable planets exist? Is there life out there?”

While she provided no answers, she offered examples of the ways scientists and engineers are pursuing these questions by first looking for planets where water exists or has existed. She clearly exemplified what it means to truly be a “great” teacher!

OLC rightly prides itself on supporting networking and engaging providers as partners with higher education institutions for connection, collaboration, innovation, and dialogue. Thank you, OLC!

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