We all know and share stories — of our family, pets, work, travel, life experiences. We refer to myths, folklore, and characters from popular TV shows to explain things to ourselves and others. We naturally build internal narratives to help us make sense of the world.
Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human, and it allows us to share information in a way that creates an emotional connection. For adult learning, this has profound implications as the role of learner’s experience and self-concept suggests that stories have an essential role in learning.
Storytelling and e-learning
At first glance, the idea of introducing storytelling to e-learning might seem counterintuitive. After all, everyone keeps talking about the rise of micro learning and the need to keep e-learning courses short and to the point.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end, multiple characters, and contain multiple learning moments. If they can be summed up in two to three sentences, they are anecdotes, not stories.
Storytelling definitely needs a place in e-learning. It’s engaging and memorable, but it also builds an emotional connection with the content, leading to behavior change. While telling a story in a five-minute module is challenging, there are ways to incorporate storytelling in more extensive e-learning courses.
You can do this by using:
- Testimonials — an expert’s firsthand account is a potent learning tool. For example, you can include the testimony of an agent who managed to defuse a tricky situation if you’re teaching a complaint handling course;
- Case studies — efficient when you have to show the audience the impact of various actions or how certain developments lead to multiple outcomes. These are usually rather detailed, so it’s up to the instructional designer to decide how much needs to be shared;
- Scenarios — used in adult learning for a long time, with hypothetical situations that resemble real-life ones. This allows learners to think about potential solutions without worrying about the repercussions. Scenarios in which learners become actors are also possible and prove very good for engagement and retention thanks to immersive training technology.
How to include stories in your e-learning
Here are a few tips to help you include stories in e-learning without overdoing it:
Define the outcomes
The point of including stories is to modify learner behavior significantly and positively. With this in mind, you need to precisely determine what type of behavior you want to see at the end of the learning intervention.
With the outcomes in mind, connect the relevant and connected stories in a meaningful way to the competencies you are teaching. It’s best to have a wide array to choose from. Even if you end up only using a few, starting with many options will allow you to pick the best fit instead of forcing them in just to prove a point.
Design the storytelling parts
Even though stories are compelling and engaging on their own, simply throwing them in the mix will come off as clumsy. Stories need to be woven into the content to feel natural and capture the essence of the events.
Depending on the length of the module, you can include a single story and go in-depth or several unrelated stories that serve different purposes. If you choose to go with multiple stories, make sure they are paced right, and there’s a low chance of cognitive overload.
Develop the story to fit the content and make its point
Stories are powerful because they generate meaning and get an emotional reaction from the audience. Authors do this through plot devices and clever wording. E-learning requires conciseness and keeping embellishments to the minimum.
As a result, you need to be creative while keeping it short. Luckily, you can do that with video, animation, and gamification devices. Keep in mind that the point is not to make a complicated scenario but an engaging one. It’s best to err on the side of simplicity.
Stories are part of being human. One of their initial purposes was to pass knowledge from one generation to another. There’s a lot to be said about archetypes and how they still act as powerful containers of meaning and emotion. When designing online training courses, it’s important to keep these in mind and use them wisely.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.