“A story does what facts and statistics never can: it inspires and motivates” Daniel Taylor, novelist.
Stories keep you up at night. A good story stays with you long after you close the book or leave the cinema. It’s our ability to tell compelling stories that sets us apart from other species.
Our ancestors handed stories down from generation to generation, passing on history, beliefs and customs, even a joke or two. Humans have always harnessed the power of storytelling to pass on information so it’s no surprise to discover it’s one of the cornerstones of effective eLearning content.
Just the words ‘Let me tell you a story…’ make us lean in. Ready to make an emotional connection with a plot or character. Engaged. eLearning content creators and trainers draw on the techniques of storytellers – to deliver more engaging scenario-based learning to bring courses such as software training or compliance – often high on data and low on humour – to life.
Stories in eLearning are the glue holding the facts together. Compelling storytelling makes skills stick.
Why Does Storytelling In eLearning Work?
“When eLearning course content creates an emotional connection with its learners, it makes them trust the value of the content and, subsequently, make them want to learn more… igniting active learning.”
Victoria Zambeto elearningindustry.com
If you are part of a sales team, you’ll know that statistics alone don’t close deals, relationships and stories do. A convincing story, well told, adds value to your presentation and makes it easier for a customer to recall. e-trainers use storytelling techniques to keep learners engaged and most importantly – invested.
The eLearning sector is experiencing exponential growth – the market will be worth $375 billion by 2025 (gminsights.com). With the rise of remote working, online training has to work harder and engage students faster than in the traditional face-to-face classroom setting. From pets to partners, distractions are rife in our remote working environment. But if your online trainer is using a scenario based on a real-life situation to illustrate a key skill – you’re less likely to switch off. You have to know what happens next.
Jennifer Aaker, Marketing professor at Stanford recalls how a marketing researcher asked students in her class to create a one-minute presentation. Only one of the ten students used a story as part of their pitch. When the students were asked what they remembered about everyone’s work, 63% remembered the story, but only 5% accurately remembered a statistic. Stories make it easier to learn complex and abstract concepts.
The Science Behind The Stories
How does storytelling in eLearning work?
Information-heavy presentations are decoded by the language processing areas in our brain – Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. We decode the information, but we don’t receive an emotional ‘kickback’ from it. Our brain uses a different, language-processing area for
decoding and processing stories. When this area is stimulated, through a story, or a character, we make an emotional empathic connection.
That emotional reaction releases dopamine, the chemical associated with pleasure and dopamine is directly connected to our ability to remember. (National Centre for Biotechnology Information).
By combining scenario-based eLearning with statistics and supporting data, you’ll be delivering training content with both barrels.
What Makes A Good Story?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a Hollywood blockbuster or a manga comic, the same principles of storytelling hold true. How your character turns their fortunes around by clever use of new skills or software is where the eLearning gold is.
Create Believable Relatable Scenarios
Learning theorists claim that adult learners have to see that something is relevant to their own experience before they’ll invest time and effort to learn about it. Using real-life, relatable scenarios – preferably true stories – endorses your training.
Where do we find these ‘relatable real-life scenarios’? Ask the employees out in the field or on the shopfloor actually doing the job. People love to share personal work experiences – try asking if anyone ever forgot to follow the compliance policy? What happened? What happened when the field rep accidentally hit reply-all on a confidential client email? Gathering these ‘true life’ scenarios ahead of live webinars for example means you have a great attention-grabbing opener. Stories are
memorable ice-breakers and foster connections between remote colleagues who may not know each other.
Create Strong, Interesting Characters
Characters with personality – that your audience with empathise with and relate to. It’s fine to ‘draw from life’ – and even to embellish a little. How your characters react and behave in your scenarios shows your audience how to do it and how not to.
Create A Moment Of Conflict
Without a moment of jeopardy, there’s no story. Heighten the tension by adding just 10% more to your plot – the deal was worth 10% more than it actually was, or the turnaround time was 10% tighter than it actually was.
Psychologists call it the Humour Effect – our brain has been shown to be better at retrieving humorous information than non – humorous information (https://effectiviology.com/humor-effect/). We pay more attention to a funny story and we listen more attentively to people who have a good sense of humour.
Encourage Audience Participation!
This is where the Instant Chat function of video conferencing tools such as Zoom really comes into its own. The more your trainees participate in
the story – and its possible outcomes – the higher their information retention rate.
Try building cliffhangers into your scenarios and ask your audience to decide what happens next – embedding them at the heart of the action. Story-based scenarios provide a ‘safe space’ to experiment in. As the trainer, your role is to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable enough to make mistakes. And learn from them.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling
Storytelling is still one of the best ways to connect with your audience. In eLearning, the key is finding a story that is relatable. We retain what we relate to.