Have you ever been flooded by nostalgia when you pass through a town you used to live in or when you visit a restaurant or place where a special experience is stored deep in the corners of your memories?
Camping in the present with memories of the past
I just got back from a fun family camping trip at a beautiful campground near Newport, OR. We passed through my hometown of Vancouver, WA on the drive down. I hadn’t been to the Oregon Coast since I was a kid and I moved away from Vancouver 15 years ago.
I showed the kids where I used to live, and pointed out the “Pink Tower of Power” as they used to call it on the radio station I listened to in middle school. When we reached the ocean, I told them about the time the ocean washed out our wooded camping spot one stormy summer night when I was a kid.
Every mile driven on this trip triggered a memory, a feeling, a scent, a story, a past life that now lives in deep crevices of my brain, serving mostly as a foundation of who I am and why I make the decisions that I do. The actual memories only surface in old familiar places or when summoned by a question or some unique smell or other sensory trigger.
What is your nostalgic experience?
Our brain logs experiences in a multidimensional space. What was a summertime vacation tradition in your family? What do you remember about the location? Who else was there?
None of these memories surface as a page of words or a PowerPoint slide full of objectives. If you think about it long enough, you remember the sound of the creek or the sway of the trees. You remember the scent of the green casings for walnuts breaking open beneath the old walnut tree, or the tree sap in your hair that always made mom mad.
Can training be nostalgic?
One component rarely considered when designing training is the physical environment. Even if your session is engaging and keeps everyone awake during the entire session, how will that experience be logged and what will trigger those memories?
While learning about workplace safety doesn’t exactly feel like nostalgia, think about your first job. Does a scene begin to build in your mind? Place yourself in the three-dimensional space where you were trained on something. Where are you in this scene? Who was with you? What was happening in your life at that time? Did you have an iPhone? How did you get to work?
Does it feel like nostalgia now?
Build the setting
Nostalgia is the memory of an experience triggered by being exposed to a strong component of that experience. The physical setting where it took place is one of the central building blocks of that memory.
Instructional story design uses a process that includes building a “setting” for training.
If you’ve designed the training well, the workstation will trigger the experience you created in your instructional story. And if you could place a buffer of time between that work experience and a visit from a now retired person on the team, you just might see the nostalgia come to life in that place.
Yes, good training can be nostalgic. The next time you see me, ask me what “white, red, and green” means and I’ll share with you a nostalgic working moment that I recall every time I craft a delicious sandwich.