SHIFT's eLearning Blog

Our blog provides the best practices, tips, and inspiration for corporate training, instructional design, eLearning and mLearning.

To visit the Spanish blog, click here
All Posts

How to Stop Being Boring: Creating eLearning with 5 Key Story Elements

Some of us remain awake till the wee hours leafing through the pages of a riveting story or scrolling down our Kindle screens. The movie buffs among us blow up our earnings on Netflix. Some others prowl the blogosphere to read about their favorite bloggers' lives and experiences. We all love stories. We love tales that resonate with our emotions and aspirations. Your corporate learners are no different. You know this, so spare your audiences the ordeal of going through tables, statistics, graphs, and pie charts when they take your course. Instead, couch your material inside an engaging story that not only tickles their gray cells but also fires their imaginations.

How do you transform seemingly drab learning matter—HR policies, fire safety guidelines, Six Sigma principles, customer experience management, and the like—into engaging stories that will keep your learners hooked? First, you have to change your mindset and start thinking like a stroyteller. Then, you have to understand the elements that make up a story. And then, you can start weaving your stories.

Cultivating the Storyteller's Mindset

"Every great leader is a great storyteller," says Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner. So, forget for a moment that you are an instructional designer. Adopt the mindset of a novelist who is about to let his readers into a fascinating and unknown world of wonders. 

  • Stop thinking in terms of Bloom's verbs and learning objectives. Instead, imagine you want to tell the story of a hero who has overcome seemingly impossible challenges.
  • You want your readers to be motivated by the hero's actions. So do not think answers; instead, think about different personalities and their various attitudes and behaviors that move others to act.
  • You want to tell the life story of a person. So do not think pages or screens; instead think about episodes.
  • In your hero's life, each episode flows into another and every action has a consequence. So when creating your eLearning course, do not think about chapters or modules; instead, think about scenes.

The Elements of a Good Story

All successful stories contain a few essential elements that bind the narrative to create an interesting whole. These elements take the story forward, provide points of interest, and help the learners relate to the narrative. As you prepare to transform from an instructional designer to a storyteller, here are the five components good eLearning storytelling should have. By incorporating these elements you’ll bring your course's content to the next level.


1) Passion or Fire

Before they have taken your course, prospective learners represent a mildly-interested to a disinterested lot. Many amongst them feel compelled to take your course because their company regulations demand so. But they can choose not to sit through the entire course. So how do you catch their attention, make them curious, and keep them hooked? You have to "fire" your story with a passion that will resonate with your audience.

Corporate learners will feel passionately drawn to your course if they know, right at the outset, what's in it for them. They are practical people who have assignments to complete, deadlines to meet, and career goals to reach. Your course must instill in them the belief that it has the directions to help them become their better versions and carve out the life of their dreams. In this promise, your learners will discover their passion.

2) Hero or Earth

Of course, the "hero" in a course for corporate learners is not the usual uniform-clad, jumping-off-buildings, or firing-rockets kind of superhero. The hero in your course looks and acts like the common man on the street. He has his own set of problems to grapple with, and in this, he is no different than your average learner. The hero of your story should be earthy and grounded in reality, so the learners can relate to him and feel inspired by his actions. He will take the learners through the narrative, introduce them to a world of possibilities, and inspire them to take steps or modify their behavior or thought patterns.

Apart from making your hero believable, you should also give him an air of respectability, so your learners feel confident about taking tips from him. You can create this air of respectability with the designation you ascribe to your hero, the words you make him speak, and the way you dress him. The hero should be a personality who inspires confidence.


Must read: Understanding The Hero’s Journey

3)  Antagonist or Air

The stories that stir us—make us go wide-eyed with wonder, weak at the knees, or jumping with joy—are the ones that pack in a conflict. Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Possible vs. impossible. We all love tension in our stories. So every impactful story has an antagonist who keeps the protagonist on his toes. Actually, the antagonist gives the protagonist the chance to play the hero!

In comic books, the antagonist is a sinister-looking villain. In your course, the antagonist is a problem, obstacle, or challenge that the hero must confront and overcome. The problem, of course, is one that your target audience is grappling with. The problem has brought your target audience to your course, and the hope of finding a solution will keep them hooked to your course. The hero may hog the limelight (read: screen space and learning time), but the problem is the life-force of the course. The antagonist is oxygen; it is the air that breathes life into the course.

4) Awareness or Light

In comic books and other stories, the unassuming hero gets a flash of insight, stumbles upon a magic  stone, or comes across an incriminating piece of evidence that helps him to defeat the bad guy, dispel darkness, and usher in light. In your course, the hero's weapon is the lesson you wish to impart to your audience. The hero learns new behavioral patterns or skills as he progresses through the course, and with his new-found awareness overcomes his problems. By proxy, the learners also gain new insights or learn new skills as they take the course. 

5) Transformation or Water

Transformation flows naturally (like water) into the story as a result of the interplay between the other four elements. It is the "happily-ever-after" situation that arises as a result of your hero's actions. The hero with his awareness (the learning) overcomes the challenges posed by the antagonist (the problem your course had set out to solve). As a result of his actions, he improves his lot and possibly, changes the world around him for better. Of course, this hope of a transformation was what that kept the learners glued to your course.

Apart from showing the transformation within the hero, you have to also convince the learners they are capable of bringing about this change in their own lives. Use assessments and feedbacks to give them the confidence.


The complex and dynamic interplay of the above-mentioned elements go on to create a story that resonates with the target audience and moves them to take positive action. Transforming eLearning content to stories is an exciting and deeply fulfilling process because you know your creation can touch and change lives for the better.

engaging eLearning courses



Karla Gutierrez
Karla Gutierrez
Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

Related Posts

10 Habits of Successful eLearning Designers

Whether you’re fresh out of school or a seasoned commander of an eLearning design team, you need to make sure your design habits are helping you thrive. In fact, one of the worst traps you can fall into as a designer is allowing consistency to turn into complacency, which is more likely for an experienced professional. To combat this, all of us have to practice looking for inspiration in new places and drawing from the other creative types, trends, and events around us. You also need to look back at your own projects. Do you hate what you did a year ago? Yes? Good! If you look at your past work and think it’s as good or better than your current stuff, that’s when you need to worry because the only way to stay at the top of your field is to be in constant competition with yourself. To get in the habit of increasing your skills while keeping good design theory in practice, we have some tips for staying inspired:

  • 15 min read
  • Wed, Jan 19, 2022 @ 03:33 PM

How to Make Your eLearning Courses More Personalized

Standarized and "one-size-fits-all” eLearning courses are no longer relevant in today's context. Personalization has become the norm.  Modern learners are used to Netflix, Spotify, Alexa... and they expect their eLearning courses to work the same way. Designing personalized courses is all about offering the right content, to the right audience, at the right time. For this to happen, designers need to pay attention to a series of elements:  Content formats (e.g. audio, video, textual, graphical, etc.) The sequence of the content and the different possible learning pathways Where content will be delivered How students will be evaluated. and many other factors  In this post, we will share some proven ways for creating more personalized experiences.

  • 10 min read
  • Wed, Jan 12, 2022 @ 04:44 PM

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating eLearning Courses in 2022

What do you think is the most important thing you need to focus on right now to GUARANTEE that the eLearning courses you are creating are successful?

  • 8 min read
  • Thu, Jan 06, 2022 @ 12:19 PM