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The Power of Story: Using Storytelling to Improve eLearning Courses

You have to schedule meetings with the SME. You have to speak with the business executives to figure out the learning objectives. You have to know the target audience. It seems you have your hands full. Why should you bother to rack your brains and think of a story? Why would you need to tell a story in an eLearning course?

Stories hold enormous power over our minds and hearts for a reason. They are how we think, how we make sense of information, how we define ourselves, and how we persuade others. According to an article in Psychology Today, stories continue to hold power in this digital age because the human brain hasn't evolved as fast as technology and it's only through stories that we can connect to the various digital platforms and media messages out there today. 

Stories can improve your eLearning courses, not only making them more instructionally-sound but also more engaging, thus more impactful. 


How Do Stories Create Emotional Engagement?

Human beings are emotional creatures. We would rather ask a friend or a co-worker for advice than rely on a manual. The image of just a swanky car doesn't excite us. But when the advertisers claim it can pack in the whole family (Timmy included) and picnic paraphernalia, we suddenly begin toying with the idea of buying it. We all have a soft spot for the underdogs. Emotions sway us, and we feel inspired when we can relate to the protagonist or the circumstances in the story.

Here's how stories make an eLearning course more engaging:

Make Them Care About Your Content 

There is a child inside every one of us. Human beings love stories. We go wide-eyed with wonder reading about or listening to the exploits of heroes. We cheer the hero and bay for the villain's defeat. Our inner child is emotionally involved with the story. When you weave stories into your eLearning courses, you can connect with your audience emotionally. When you create an emotional connection with your learners, you are a step closer to making them believe in the value of your content; you are making them want to learn even more.

Read: Wired for Empathy: How and Why Stories Cultivate Emotions

Keep Them Coming For More - Stories Whet Our Curiosity

A good story—whether it is in a book or on the TV—keeps us up at night. We keep turning the pages of a book or forget to surf channels because we want to know, "what will happen after this?" When you weave your eLearning content within an engaging story, your audience will gobble it up. Add a dash of suspense and pepper some teasers to make your content dramatic. Your audience will be curious to learn more. A story told well also engages more areas of the brain as the learner engages with it and tries to figure out what's happening in his head or predict the hero's next move. So there is active learning, which is more effective than rote learning. 

Read: Curiosity Helps Us Learn Boring Stuff

Make Content More Relatable - Stories Help Learners Feel Identified

People connect with other people, so ensure your stories focus on characters, life situations, and problems that mimic the learner's reality. Stories feel more alive and real than charts and statistics. When learners can relate to the content, the learning experience becomes memorable. 

Read: Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling

Inspire Them to Take Action!

Facts alone cannot help you persuade people. Stories do, and good stories are a very powerful tool in the art of persuasion. They keep people engaged and interested. They evoke strong emotions, and they’re easier to remember than facts. When your story resonates with the audience and the hero strikes a chord with them, you can inspire learners to modify behavior and reorient their thought patterns and attitudes.

Read: To Persuade People, Tell Them a Story

How Do Stories Make a Course Instructionally Effective?

Explaining content through stories is an effective instructional strategy, and it is not just kids who learn better this way. Stories engage the brain and make it work in ways that statistics and dry facts cannot ever accomplish. In fact, stories provide a welcome respite to your adult corporate learners from their daily dosage of presentations and charts and make them curious to explore and engage with the content.

Here's how stories make eLearning courses more instructionally-sound:

Modern Learners Seek Relevance

Your adult corporate learners are application- and results-driven individuals. You cannot wow them or impress them enough to spend their precious time taking your course if they cannot fathom what's in it for them. By mimicking the reality of the learners in the plot, a story provides context and relevance to the course. Students know how the course will help them resolve their workplace problems or teach skills and behavior that will let them advance in their careers.

Also read: Would You Take Your Own eLearning Course?

Help Them Remember Your Content! 

We remember the stories—the fairy tales, the animal tales, and the superhero comics—we had read when we were kids. Do we remember in such detail what we studied in middle school? We don't. That's because, according to research, 63 percent of people remember facts if these are presented couched inside a story compared to a paltry 5 percent when the information is bombarded on them in a conventional presentation format.

Read: Make It Hard to Forget: 6 Principles to Help Your Learners Remember Anything

Simplify Complex and Abstract Concepts 

The scenarios you create within a story and the actions of the hero do more than just instruct. They provide a roadmap to the learners by actually demonstrating how they should act in particular situations. Stories make it easier to explain complex and abstract concepts with anecdotes and analogies. 

For example, using visual metaphors to tell stories is a powerful technique to help people learn. Visual metaphors nail down abstract ideas and present them in tangible graphical forms that are easy to understand. They lay hidden relationships and pinpoint underlying patterns and trends.

Read: Why More Instructional Designers Should Harness the Power of Visual Metaphors

Avoid Boredom and Break Monotony

There's nothing like a small shock to get people's attention, so start off your eLearning courses with a story that will startle readers and make them wonder “what happens next?” Stories give our gray cells a workout. Stories engage multiple areas of the brain. You cannot deny that stories hook you and take you in entirely. You are fully aware and present at all times during the course, so you don't miss out on critical information and instructions. 

Read: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

Think Experience: Link Theory to Practice

We have been listening to and reading stories since time immemorial. You have to learn to read charts and interpret various kinds of graphs. But do you have to be told how to make sense of a story? No. That's because you are familiar with the structure of a story. You can intuitively process information from a story. You just read on. Teaching through stories is useful because the learner can concentrate on assimilating the material instead of taxing his brain trying to figure out how a story works.

Also read: 10 Things Modern L&D Professionals Should Be Doing

To learn more about how to integrate storytelling in your eLearning courses, download 

storytelling for instructional designers


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