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11.21 BLOG

Learning like Tribes: 3 methods that apply today

In anthropology, a tribe is a human social group. During their existence, these groups didn’t have access to resources that later civilizations would have… yet they were fully functioning, growing communities.

How were tribes able to learn and develop effectively?

These ancient tribes learned in three ways: by observing others and animals, from the teachings of their elders, who were normally storytellers charged with telling stories of their creation and histories, and they also played games that prepared them for life.

These learning methods were solid enough to stand the test of time and evolve into present-day learning concepts like Social Learning, Storytelling and Gamification.  


1) Social Learning

As humans, we instinctively learn in a social way. Meaning, we learn best when we observe the behaviors of those who have more experience. In tribes, members would learn how to hunt by shadowing experienced Hunters. They’d learn earthly remedies from observing the community Shaman and imitate how to lead effectively from the Chief.

This concept would later become Social Learning, a model developed from Albert Bandura’s theory. Bandura’s theory states that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. Social Learning is a very popular and effective method in corporate training today.


2) Storytelling

Stories have been around for ages. Tribal Elders were powerful storytellers who spoke of their creation and histories. They used these stories to pass on traditions and wisdom for later generations to learn from their experiences.

Humans are driven by emotion, then rationality. Stories activate parts in the brain, called neural coupling, which allows the listener to turn the story into their own ideas and experience. Dopamine is also released by the brain when it experiences an emotional moment because it makes it easier to remember with accuracy. Facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story, which is why many corporate training programs weave stories into coursework.


3) Gamification

Although the term gamification is new and trendy, using games in learning is a concept that dates back to the tribal era. Its effectiveness in present-day learning shows in studies like the one from Gartner Research, which shows that applying gamification to learning programs boosts learner engagement by 60%.

Tribes used games to teach their children safety, strength, agility, and sportsmanship. These tribal games were fun but they had a learning objective tied to it, just like gamification in corporate training does.



Learning like Tribes makes for an effective corporate training program. The three main elements in tribal learning—observation, storytelling, and gamification—are powerful tools that can be applied to the following:

  • New hire training
  • Product training
  • Application training
  • Soft skills training 


To learn more about applying these training methods, contact us.

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