Archive for June, 2013

As reported in the Metro last week, the latest figures from the National Office of Statistics show that a record one in five Britons is suffering from anxiety or depression. Mental health is now a national emergency. Taboos and stigma (which are often promoted by organisational culture) may prevent us talking about the problem, but they don’t alleviate the harm it causes.

The individual agony of clinical depression, exhaustively detailed by the late writer David Foster Wallace, is mirrored in the scale of its impact on national productivity. One study puts the annual cost of depression to the American economy at $44 billion. The epidemic may explain the mystery of why, in the UK, output per worker is falling even whilst employment recovers. As Miles Davis once sang, these days:

Blue can be the livin’ dues
We’re all a’paying

The reasons for this decline in mental well-being are complex, but there’s no doubt that years of economic stagnation and rapid technological change have a part to play. Real median wages have not increased since 2003, but rents certainly have. Stable jobs are scarce, especially for the young. Online retailing has sent the high street into a spiral of decline.

But endemic stress, anxiety and depression aren’t the inevitable ‘livin’ dues’ of today’s world. Learning professionals can and should play a key role in building mental resilience. We know that seeking help early makes a big difference. So does socialising an awareness of the warning signs. Other factors, like work / life balance, lifestyle and regular exercise are all things we can influence. The prize of doing so isn’t just a happier workforce; it’s significantly higher productivity and less time taken off.

This is why mental resilience programmes are moving to the top of the priority list for occupational health specialists in the corporate world. By making mental resilience into a key part of personal development, a well-coordinated programme can yield huge benefits. In the case of our work with Transport for London, that was a £7.8 million reduction in paid absence.

We also now understand that technology is an indispensable part of those programmes. e-Learning can’t prevent a mental breakdown, but it can make a difference – especially if it uses well researched, sensitive scenarios and tailored action plans. The privacy of an online course is also a better place than many for getting people engaged with the topic and taking action.

The knock-on effect of a widespread programme is cultural transformation, and that’s where we should be aiming. You wouldn’t walk past someone doing something blatantly unsafe at work without saying something about it, yet we routinely ignore co-workers on the edge of a mental breakdown. This is the kind of thing learning professionals can – and must – change.

At Saffron, we want to know more about how stress, depression and anxiety is affecting your organisation, and whether technology can help to address the problem. Please fill in our short survey to let us know. You’ll also be entered into a prize-draw for a touchscreen Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.

There, that might cheer you up.

Having been raised in a household of oral storytelling, stories have been in my life blood since the day I could understand language and narrative. Being able to explore human behaviour and cultural differences through stories has always fascinated me. So when I listened to a webinar involving Pat Kenny, a national e-learning manager from the Health Service Executive, that discussed using storytelling in e-learning it, it made me think.

According to Clarke & Rossiter, in adults there are three ways to learn through stories: stories heard, stories told and stories recognised. Here is how I interpret each one:

Stories heard – Should more content include personal stories and experiences?

The connection I make to stories is through a character, a word, a situation or picture that evokes an immediate attachment through familiarity. It is not my story, but there is something familiar – something I know or have experienced that forms an instant connection.

When designing e-learning solutions we should not only use scenarios but extend this to personal stories.  The webinar discussed how patients’ complaints and stories of being cared for were instrumental in allowing healthcare professionals to understand their experiences and so change the way they delivered care. By empathising with patients the healthcare professionals found a new motivation to change their way of working.

Stories told – Try incorporating learners’ stories into e-learning

I view my life as an encyclopaedia of people, places, interactions, smells and sounds which I bookmark as stories in my head. Our life stories help us to construct meaning whenever we experience something new. We all share our stories. We share them in the pub, in the classroom, at home, at work – everywhere we go.

Sharing stories is a social interaction. There is a familiarity, a shorthand, a space for a cultural exchange. It often feels a necessity to do so because it’s an indispensable way of forging bonds between people. We should use this behaviour to improve learning programmes. Why not incorporate learners’ stories in the storyboarding process?

Stories recognised – The key to behaviour change

Finally, the key to getting successful emotional engagement through storytelling is self-recognition. A feedback survey on our mental resilience course for TfL illustrates this. It showed that 85% of individuals found the scenarios realistic or could personally relate to the scenarios used. This is what helped 70% of individuals to implement long term change.

To find out more, why not visit Saffron Interactive at Stand 20 at the upcoming Learning Technologies Forum and attend our seminar, which is on the topic of emotional investment and behaviour change.

This quote from Octavia E Butler’s story The Parable of the Sower encapsulates the effect that experiential stories can have on individuals and organisations.

All that you touch
You Change
All that You Change
Changes you…

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