Langevin Blog

Create Analogies in 2 Easy Steps

March 29th, 2012

“Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…You Never Know What You’re Gonna’ Get!” ~Forrest Gump

You probably remember this famous analogy from the movie, Forrest Gump, but did you know that analogies can also serve as powerful teaching aids? Let me explain. An analogy is defined as comparing something known with something that is unknown. In our example, Forrest Gump’s mother used a box of assorted chocolates to teach him that life is often unpredictable and full of surprises. He learned the concept quickly because she compared something he knew well—chocolates—with something unfamiliar to him. Analogies are one of many proven instructional techniques we teach in our workshop entitled, How Adults Learn.

Analogies and their value in teaching are also mentioned in the book, Tales for Trainers, by Margaret Parkin. Andrew Ortony (1993) investigated the use of metaphors and analogies in everyday life.  He stated that there are three main reasons to use analogies not only in our daily lives but also in the context of learning:

  1. To achieve “compactness” in how we communicate
  2. To include vividness in our language
  3. To help us express the inexpressible

As instructors we can capitalize on these three reasons to make our instruction more concise, memorable and effective. I use analogies often in my training classes and so can you! The other day a learner asked me where I get my analogies and how I create them. Well, here is the answer that I shared with her; I create my analogies in two steps:

  1. I think about information sources relatable to everyone. For example, I use information from sports, current TV shows and movies, weather, home improvement projects, and food.
  2. I then choose course content that I teach which is particularly challenging to learn and I ask myself, “Can I compare this new concept with something similar from the world of sports (for example) that everyone can relate to?” I brainstorm for a while in a quiet place and I can usually think of something. Once I think of the analogy I write it down and I use it in class to see how it works!

At Langevin we like to say that a good analogy can save you up to 60 minutes worth of lecture time. So, the next time you design your training sessions be sure to set aside some time to brainstorm some ideas in a quiet place, write some memorable analogies down, and incorporate them into your lesson plan. If you do, I promise you, your training will be more concise, memorable, and effective!


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2 Responses to “Create Analogies in 2 Easy Steps”

  1. Lisa says:

    Great post Lynne! In my organization, we find analogies do truly make new concepts more impactful. We have even found that basic analogies can work well with multicultural/multilingual audiences if the proper care is taken to choose an analogy that is universal.

    Have you ever been in a situation where an analogy fell flat or was not received well by the training audience? If so, did it change the way you build your analogies?

    Graduate student, Roosevelt University M.A. Training & Development

  2. Lynne says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your comments! I have run into times when an analogy I created fell flat with a learner group. It does not change the way I create analogies, nor does it deter me from using them, but I just make a note to either change the analogy, delete that particular one, or create a better one!

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