Stan Lee

Elearning Design Lesson I Learned from Stan Lee (or How to Tap Into Emotions and Boost Elearning Engagement)

Today, I am going to tell you about an ingredient that separates the elearning winners from the elearning losers.

You see, many designers — I’m guilty of this too — struggle and struggle to “get creative.” We all search for “tricks” to make elearning engaging and, transformative.

Well, today, I have a secret ingredient I believe you can actually rely on!

Stan Lee,…co-creator of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc.

I’m not kidding. I really do believe there’s a strong lesson from Stan Lee’s experience and knowledge as it relates to elearning design.

Stan Lee
By the way, did you know Stan Lee (pictured here) used to be an instructional designer? It’s true, Stan Lee’s World War II military service involved writing training films, posters, instructional manuals, and visiting Army posts to help them speed up their training methods and operations!

But, before I explain Stan Lee, and his wisdom, I want to point out a simple law of success:

Experts In Human Potential Have Long Said,
Your Emotions, And Largely How You Feel,
Dictate Your Results In Life.

In other words, your thoughts cause you to feel, your feelings cause you to take action, and, your actions cause your results!

Well, so what? What does that have to do with you, with Stan Lee, and with elearning?

A lot. You see, what I’m trying to do is work backwards to find out what factors are most influential in determining whether information is likely to cause results.

And, I believe, consciously or unconsciously, Stan Lee used that “law of success” to create the Marvel Universe, and, our modern mythology. (VERY major lesson coming up, so pay attention.)

How to Tap Into Emotions And Boost Elearning Engagement

Again, according to success experts, thoughts and feelings are the starting point.

Assuming that makes sense to you, how in the world can your elearning influence how a person feels?

Well, riddle me this… How did Stan Lee influence millions and millions of people to feel for a “Spider-man”?

Listen: If you’re asking yourself, how can a person feel connected to my learning experience, you should seriously consider using Spider-man as a “template”.

Because it seems to me, Spider-man will still be web-slinging long after I’m gone.

So, how did Spidey—who was created way back in 1962—become so popular while other superheros just didn’t catch on?

Stan Lee had this to say about it:

“I think there were a lot of reasons. I think perhaps the main reason was, that I can relate to him. Cause he was shy, he wasn’t that successful with girls, he had to worry about his family. I think most teenagers reading it thought to themselves, ‘That could be me!’”

Here’s what you should be interested in:

“… I can relate to him. […] That could be me!”

What Stan Lee is talking about is, “Character Identification” — also known as “reader sympathy”

Identification is a well researched psychological manipulation where you experience the same emotions and feelings as the characters who you identify with.

Say, wait a minute. Do you remember how I said it’s your emotions and feelings that influence your actions in life? You do? Good.

“In a more modern workplace, we are aiming to align learning with corporate outcomes, thus although a PEN State Univ MOOC on Creative Thinking maybe relevant it is not personal or relevant to me or my organisation – how does it relate to me. So why should I care?”
— Con Sotidis, Social Learning Evangelist

You need to understand this… if… you want maximum results from your elearning design.

Design Elearning The ‘Stan Lee Way’

Peter Parker with his Aunt May
This is Peter Parker (AKA Spider-man) with his Aunt May.

Now, when you read Spider-man you identify with Peter and, get emotionally attached.

Why? Simply because (deep down) you have the same anxieties as Peter. And that character identification invites narrative empathy.

Remember: “That could be me!”

Stan Lee sums it up this way:

“Basically if we had a formula at all. The formula was: We know we’re doing fantasy. We have guys who can fly, burst into flame, all that. But write them as realistically as possible. If those people really existed, what would their lives be like? And that’s what I was trying to do.”

Now, your job should be easier than Stan Lee … Stan was making The Mighty Thor as realistic as possible and, I assume, your elearning is much more reality-based than that!

Okay, true believer… You now know it’s emotions and feelings that cause people to take action, and the way to influence emotions and feelings is through “identification”, so my question to you is: How Will You Design Experiences People Can Identify With?


Would you like to get an e-mail from me with more hacks/tricks?

Every Monday, I send out an exclusive email with a strategy I’m using. It might include design tips, storytelling hacks, engagement strategies, and — of course — all sorts of creative ideas I get.

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