The best way to engage and communicate with your eLearning audience is through storytelling. Not only will you be able to connect with your learners, but if the story is appropriately framed and structured, they will be able to better relate to the content being taught. This will lead to improved transfer of knowledge and, as a result, deliver better overall learning outcomes.
Why tell stories at all?
In late 2013, Emory University published a study conducted by its neuroscientists that linked changes to the brain’s neural patterns as a result of reading real-life event-based stories. Without getting too technical, researchers saw extraordinary activity in the research subject’s left temporal lobe – the part of our brain responsible for processing semantics (meaning) in vision and speech.
In layman’s terms, the results showed that stories created more brain connections to the events being studied, compared to straightforward facts, figures and other raw data. The conclusion that these researchers drew was identical to what neurologists have known for years: Humans are creatures that relate to stories, even if those stories are built around particularly un-interesting facts. The more mundane the reality is, the better appreciative of the story our brain gets.
As eLearning course and content developers, research studies such as this one prove that there is an interconnection between biology, neurology, and storytelling. And it is those connections that we should exploit, through creating eLearning content based on stories, to help learners to grasp and appreciate what’s being taught.
7 rules to creating engaging eLearning stories
So, how do we go about putting this information – about the effectiveness of storytelling – into practice? What does it take to create highly engaging story-lines in eLearning content? Well, here are seven rules that any eLearning course designer should keep in mind when integrating storytelling into their content:
RULE#1: Understand your audience
The first principle of leveraging good storytelling is to understand whom you will be telling the story to. Unless you have a good appreciation for the listener’s/viewer’s/learner’s persona, you’ll not be able to fully engage him/her with your story.
- What is your learners demographics?
- What is their background (education, professional, social)?
- Why are they attending the course (what’s motivating them)?
Upon understanding these basics about your learners, you can now start to create appropriate stories to include into your curriculum.
RULE#2: Create a plot
We all know that creating eLearning content isn’t like writing a murder mystery! So, what’s this about a plot? Well, to engage your learners, you need to draw them in first – and the “plot” is the tool that will help you do that.
A case in point: If you are developing a course about Budgeting, then why not create it around a couple whose finances are out of control. They are over-extended in loans, maxed out their credit cards – and they need assistance to get their financial lives in order. Your course is all about doing just that!
RULE#3: Connect with your audience
This third rule is an extension to Rule#2. When deciding what your story-line should be about, don’t forget who you are teaching. If your audience happens to be a group of factory supervisors being exposed to financial literacy, they’ll more likely relate to a plot around the factory’s budget being unbalanced and, as a result, the Foreman/Forewoman not having money to buy raw material needed.
This second plot will build a better connection between your learners and your content, than the family budget discussed earlier.
RULE#4: Create personalities
When reading, viewing, or listening to stories, we often “relate” to specific personalities in the story. Your content should similarly consist of various characters, around whom you can build the plot:
- A “fun loving” family member who spends too much on take-out
- An absent-minded factory accountant who never remembers to update the factory inventory records
Use these personalities to then introduce or illustrate key concepts about your course. Show your learners what the consequences of specific personalities’ actions do to the budget, and what needs to be done to address the issues.
RULE#5: Introduce humor
Where possible, lighten-up on serious talk, and try to introduce a boy of humor into your storytelling. While there are some subjects that preclude the use of humor, it’s generally understood that humor can get a point across much more effectively than somber facts and figures can.
RULE#6: Promote participation
The story should comprise of segments where learners actually get to step into the shoes of one (or more) characters, and then make decisions around the course content. So, rather than outlining the problem, and explaining ways to mitigate the issue, use the story to:
- Ask what learners think is at the heart of the problem
- Get your audience to suggest potential solutions
Then, use those inputs to work out alternate routes that the story could take, based on a specific resolution suggested by learners. Audience inputs usually come from their own experiences and prior knowledge. Using storytelling to play out their experiences will help them better understand the course content.
Before launching into the heart of the course, begin your story with a powerful, attention-grabbing headline. Then, use the other rules discussed here to build engagement and participation into the content. Finally, make sure your story has an ending – regardless of whether it’s a happy one or a more “thoughtful” one.
All these three elements must be integrated into the course if your story is to make the desired impression on your learners.
Leveraging storytelling tools
Producing effective stories requires more than just having a great plot and weaving it with interesting characters. You need to stimulate interest, captivate imagination and encourage participation. Sometimes though, that’s hard to accomplish with plain old text or PowerPoint slide decks.
So, don’t hesitate to draw upon specialized resources, like Storytelling tools from EIDesign, to help you create your stories. By bringing in scenarios, visual indicators, and simulations, you’ll be able to further enhance the quality of your stories, resulting in greater learner engagement.