Storytelling in Learning: A Timeless Mechanism of Engagement

Omniplex Learning

In this article [ hide ]

Whenever you hear the word ‘storytelling’, you might be transported back to the time of your childhood, to bedtime stories, or whimsical tales spun by Disney movies. But, have you ever considered the role of storytelling in your adult life? The power of stories is inescapable; they govern our interactions, fuel our conversations, and inspire our imaginations. We’re naturally drawn to stories, a fact demonstrated by a 1944 experiment1 which showed we tend to humanise even the simplistic movement of shapes.


Crafting Impactful Stories for Learning

Amplified against the backdrop of information overload, compelling stories serve as beacons, guiding learners towards meaningful content. The key lies in crafting narratives that center around the audience, resonating with their experiences and sparking emotional engagement.

Educators, Learning and Development (L&D) professionals, and organisational learning designers can leverage the power of storytelling to establish a deep connection between learners and the learning content.


Adult Learning and Storytelling

Unlike childhood learning, adult learning is largely self-directed and interest-based. Designing digital learning content for organisations requires addressing a broad spectrum of subjects catering to diverse audience. Here, storytelling can:

  • Foster understanding and participation in the organisational culture,
  • Boost team cohesion,
  • Enhance quality relationships within the organisation.

To construct effective narratives, L&D professionals may heed Michelle Kaminski’s advice2, ensuring that:

  1. The story aligns with the learning objectives,
  2. The protagonist must face choices, each with trade-offs.

An example of such a learning module is the bribery and corruption course developed by MTC, modeled on Netflix’s ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’.

The Role of Visuals in Storytelling

Compelling learning content transcends text, encompassing visuals. Humans have employed images to convey stories for millennia. In today’s multimedia-rich era, visual storytelling has become indispensable for enhancing learning experiences. Modern eLearning solutions like Storyline 360 and Vyond powerfully aid in creating visually engaging narratives.


Crafting Purposeful Stories

While the temptation to weave in elaborate narratives to boost engagement is real, a story without a purpose is unlikely to serve the learning objectives. As illustrated by Shane Snow’s TEDx talk at Columbia College, stories must be relatable and believable to captivate learners.

Here are some practical tips for weaving storytelling into the fabric of learning design:

  1. Engage with a Strong Opening: Begin with an engaging opener that immediately grabs attention. This could be an interesting fact, a provocative question, or an intriguing scenario.
  2. Leverage Real-Life Scenarios: Incorporate realistic scenarios that learners can relate to. This enhances the relevance and applicability of the learning content.
  3. Create Relatable Characters: Characters in the story should mirror the learners or the roles they might find themselves in. This promotes stronger identification with the characters and deepens engagement.
  4. Incorporate Conflict and Resolution: Introduce some form of a challenge or conflict in the narrative. The resolution of this conflict should tie back to the learning objectives, providing a ‘learning moment’ for the audience.
  5. Use Visuals Strategically: Use visuals not just as decorative elements but as storytelling aids. Graphics, infographics, diagrams can enhance comprehension and retention.
  6. Conclude with a Strong Message or Call to Action: Wrap up the narrative with a powerful conclusion or a call to action that reinforces the main learning points.



Storytelling is a potent tool in adult learning, fostering emotional connections with the content. To design effective learning narratives, ensure that the story is directly related to the learning content and the learners’ interests, grounded in reality, and offering a relatable protagonist who faces viable choices.

Incorporate these aspects with compelling visuals, and you will create digital learning experiences that learners eagerly engage with, fostering more effective learning and retention.

1 1944 study conducted by Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel.
2 Kaminski is co-author of ‘Teaching Leadership to Union Women: The Use of Stories’.