Küntzel, Bastian, The Learner’s Journey: Storytelling as a Design Principle to create powerful Learning Experiences

Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com

Storytelling is the doorway to human existence; it leads us to become who we are. Though stories may sometimes be dismissed as entertainment, they are never neutral. They are the pathway from past to present to future. Most likely, we take stories lightly as conversation pieces, part of everyday information exchange or, more seriously, we may see them as a normal means of imparting identity to a new generation, inculcating learnings, values, and directions meant to help them manage life in the present and in days to come.

At worst, stories are the tools of marketing and political persuasion, instigating bias and violence. Ultimately, as the author puts it, “Identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.”  The roles are those of teller and listener. The teller is more than likely to reshape the story she or he is handing down, and the listener tends to behave as a kind of sieve separating what is to be believed and what is to be discarded. Both of these roles may be exercised unconsciously.

But, what if the very structure of storytelling were consciously and actively wielded in the construction of experience, story-building rather storytelling. Then it could be strategically adopted to maximize the effective creation of learning that does what it tells about. This leap of perspective is essentially what Küntzel has undertaken in this slender volume, a vademecum for the consultant, trainer, facilitator, or teacher intent on making a difference in learners’ lives and worlds. It is not about telling or learning to tell good stories. Rather it is about helping people narrate themselves, to sojourn where they enjoy being or to accept the challenge to journey to a next goal for themselves and desired state for their world. This process of self-narration, self-creation requires facilitation by one who understands how each person can be set, a step at a time, on the path to a future state or competence, face its trials, struggle with its detours, defeat resistance and arrive fresh and refreshing for self and circumstance. Story-making, not storytelling is the objective here.

Put more simply, taking this path, or being a guide along the way requires an examination of how stories tend to be constructed. It demands awareness of the common elements in the development of characters, protagonists, and environments. For this, Küntzel offers a viable model, the Story Circle which identifies the steps and stages normally found in the human journey of transformation. This is based on the seminal work of Joseph Campbell (The Hero’s Journey) and insights of others who have worked this path. Thus, the author provides a lesson plan for lesson plans by using common dynamics of storymaking, the elements of the hero's journey, as guideposts for weathering the elements, facing the challenges and accomplishing the tasks required at each stage of the journey. Küntzel begins by spelling out how the trainer or facilitator can build a safe learning environment for transformation. Then, chapter by chapter, he provides step-by-step advice on how to activate, facilitate and troubleshoot each stage successfully in service of those who have undertaken a specific learning or developmental path.

Reading The Learner’s Journey stimulated me to more consciously and conscientiously examine my own “hero’s journey” as a facilitator and trainer. It encourages me to identify what might be working and why, as well as to explore what may be missing or dysfunctional in my interventions, so I can better furnish needed elements in how I choose to lead and guide those entrusted to me as participants in learning events.

Books on Demand. 2019. ISBN-10: 3749419760, ISBN-13: 978-3749419760

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