Storytelling is a key part of creating engaging, interactive and entertaining eLearning content… when it’s done well.
We’re brought up on stories, and as human beings instinctively tune in to storytelling in both our personal and working lives. I’m sure you remember the first stories you heard as a child. The first Disney cartoon you ever saw.
Your favourite films, books, plays and television programmes all resonate because the story they tell emotionally draws you and connects you to absorb, engage and react to their content.
The teachers we remember from school were not the ones that robotically trotted out turgid facts and figures on the blackboard, spoon-feeding us the information we needed to absorb and learn.
The genuinely inspirational teachers were great storytellers who had the learners emotionally at the story’s heart. There were plenty of facts and figures in the story, but these were part of a much bigger context that engaged our brains and encouraged learning.
It’s no surprise that psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research indicates that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered as part of a story.
Organisational psychologist Peg Neuhauser discovered that learning from good storytelling would be accurately remembered for a much more extended period than learning from facts and figures.
The same applies to a business context. Vanessa Boris’s article in Harvard Business Review – “What Makes Storytelling So Effective For Learning”, sums it up nicely:
“…an organisation’s stories, and the stories its leaders tell, help solidify relationships in a way that factual statements encapsulated in bullet points or numbers don’t.”
Storytelling in eLearning works because it can resonate with all learners
In “Leader as Storyteller: 10 Reasons It Makes a Better Business Connection”, Paul Smith points this out, irrespective of a learner’s preferred learning style.
“In any group, roughly 40 per cent will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations. Another 40 per cent will be auditory, learning best through lectures and discussions. The remaining 20 per cent are kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling. Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types. Visual learners appreciate the mental pictures storytelling evokes. Auditory learners focus on the words and the storyteller’s voice. Kinesthetic learners remember the emotional connections and feelings from the story.”
Even what we may term “dry” learning subjects such as compliance training can be brought to life by compelling storytelling that improves the learning experience.
But you need to be able to tell a good story! And that’s where many learning developers receive a “could do better” mark.
The challenge for eLearning trainers and course content creators is to create a good story
Most eLearning stories are mediocre and bland. We believe the learning and development industry needs to raise its standards and aim higher when it comes to creativity and compelling storytelling.
That’s not a huge surprise. Take the movie industry – an industry built on storytelling. For every Hollywood blockbuster, there are probably 20 Hollywood “turkeys”. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, 80% of all films made lose money.
So even if you manage to create a great story from your eLearning content, there will undoubtedly be some people who won’t like it.
Our top 10 tips for an excellent eLearning story
So what can you do to ensure your storytelling improves the eLearning experience?
Here are 10 top tips that we believe can help:
1. Make sure you’re telling a story!
Many people throw various pieces of content at their target audience, thinking they are telling them a story. This is often not the case. For example, testimonials are not stories per se. They may play a part in telling a story, but in their own right will not resonate without that more significant context. Case studies that trot out a load of facts and bullet points are not telling the story behind these. There needs to be an emotional element in a story. If this is lacking, it’s not a true story that can connect to a human being.
2. Don’t be afraid to show peers and business leaders the power of storytelling for eLearning.
Not everyone gets this point. So, share with your colleagues the power of emotion derived from Storytelling in engaging with people. For example, Antonio Damasio, Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology at the University of Southern California, does this well in this short video.
3. Construct your storytelling eLearning content using a model.
There are several of these available. Donald Miller’s StoryBrand model is free and well worth using. His model works on the basis that every story ever written has the following common elements:
1. Make your learner audience the hero. You are not the hero of your story.
2. Define your audience’s problems.
3. Be a guide with a solution – your role as content creator/trainer.
4. You create a clear plan.
5. Include a clear call to action in the plan.
6. Discuss the potential for failure.
7. End your story with success.
4. An excellent eLearning story has six essential characteristics. Make sure yours ticks these boxes.
• They carry a high level of emotion far more memorable than a mundane event.
• They humanise the issue. Make it about people. Think soap opera. Think inspirational leader who you can build into your story.
• Create a story that connects the learner. Even if they haven’t personally experienced a situation, make sure they can still relate to it. Use well-known examples or analogies to illustrate the point. Religion uses parables that help the listener draw personal conclusions from the message given.
• Inject your personality when telling the story. Tell it from your heart. Provide an insight into your own life. Talk from personal experience. People like to know and follow people, not robots.
• Great storytelling raises the bar taking us out of day-to-day mundanity into a new, exciting world where the values are higher.
• Great storytellers show, not tell. Demonstrate with examples and evidence the key points you’re making. Make your story believable.
5. Use emotion to lead your story, not logic or facts.
Seth Godin says: “People are moved by stories, by drama, by hints and clues and discovery. Logic is a battering ram.”
Whilst it’s still important for stories, particularly in eLearning, to be truthful and factual, it’s the journey and the emotion behind it that will keep your learners invested.
6. Tell your story by interacting with learners.
Ask questions. Invite learners to tell their stories as part of your story. Tap into learner’s passions and external motivators. Involve people.
7. Keep it simple.
The best and most memorable stories are the simplest. Don’t over clutter your messaging. Reprise and re-iterate the critical points as the story unfolds. Good stories can be told many times over.
8. Don’t feed the learners the salient points.
Let them work out the plot and storyline for themselves. They use their brains and problem-solving skills to create a more memorable learning experience.
9. Tell your story with passion and commitment.
Enthusiasm can be infectious. Energy and passion will improve learner engagement because it shows you care about your story and believe in its power.
10. Be creative.
You don’t have to be Dickens to tell a good story. There are many tools and apps available that enable high levels of creativity with ease. Across a whole range of media channels. Take Vyond video software, for example, which allows anyone to create powerful, engaging, dynamic video easily in-house.
Help with your storytelling
Omniplex Learning can help you create engaging content that will inspire your learners. You’ll have the tools and skills to do this in-house. Just get in touch, and we’d be delighted to show you how.