Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that storytelling can make learning more effective. Stories help us process and remember information. Perhaps they even touch a part of our consciousness associated with the magic and creativity of childhood.

In my desire to become a better storyteller, I attended a session on the subject while at the Presentation Summit, a conference where the topics overlap surprisingly well with the interests of training professionals and learning specialists.

Here are the key points I gathered from a session titled, The Art of Storytelling, presented by Jon Thomas. I modified them for learning experience designers as needed.

1. Stories are the emotional glue that connects the audience to the message

Much of what people remember from a learning experience are the feelings of the underlying message rather than a multitude of small facts (which are better reserved for job aids). Stories are an important way to tap into the heart of the audience, providing a channel for conveying a deeper message based on emotion.

2. Information presentation should be constructed around a story

Any kind of presentation—whether it be online training or a live presentation—will benefit from a story construction. Organizing information into a format with a beginning (setting the stage), middle (the challenge) and ending (new reality) can work for many topics.

 3. People want to know about origins

When we watch or read about a superhero, we always remember the person’s origins. We know where they came from and the circumstances that created their super powers. People are defined by their origins and people are curious about where people (or fictional characters) come from, how they change and how they evolve. Include this type of information in your next story.

4. Stories reshape knowledge into something meaningful

For centuries, people have used stories to pass on knowledge. When information is embedded in the context of a story, it is transferred to a listener or reader in a unique way. According to the presenter of this session, new research shows that 70% of what we learn is consumed through storytelling.

5. Stories make people care

When you know your audience—their pains, frustrations and joys—your stories can reflect their emotions and experiences. As learners begin to see themselves in the story and begin to identify with it, they start to care. Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate, states that a story serves as a moment of emotional appeal.

6. Stories transcend one’s current environment

Good storytelling can transport learners out of their stuffy meeting rooms and offices into an adventurous world away from the workplace. In this altered reality, the mind becomes more open to perceiving and thinking in new ways. This is an ideal position from which to learn.

7. Stories are motivating

Stories can motivate an audience toward a learning goal. They are ideal for attitudinal training because when an audience is motivated, they no longer need to be persuaded. An encouraging story will inspire someone to take action.

8. People take time for stories

Have you ever noticed that even the busiest of people will stop to listen to someone’s story or to tell one of their own? Stories are why people are drawn to novels and movies and gossip magazines. If you want to maintain an audience’s attention, you’re more likely to do it through storytelling.

9. Stories are more likely to be shared

Because we are so attuned to stories, people love to share them. They are like hooks that draw people in as they are passed from one person to the next. If you have any doubts, check out the thousands of Facebook Stories. This is where people share how they use Facebook and the meaning it has in their life. Do you need to spread the word about something? Put it in a story and see if it gets shared.

10. Stories give meaning to data

Many people perceive data as meaningless numbers. This happens when the data is disconnected to anything important in their experience. But when the data is placed in the context of a story, it comes alive. One of the most well-known examples of this is Hans Roling’s presentation below. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the four minutes to watch.

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Comments

  1. Bryce says

    I agree, Effective storytelling is an integral part of the teaching process. Stories capture the emotional interest of the listener in a way that normal lectures would never have touched on.

    That video is also a great example of “Motion Graphics,” taking a complex set of data and presenting it in either a static visual form (infographics) or a short video (motion graphics).

  2. bradd says

    That presentation does not meet my definition of a story, but it certainly is a wonderful animated timeline. The motion graphics and the enthusiasm of the speaker are what makes it interesting.

  3. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Bradd,
    Well, I know what you mean. It’s not a story as we usually think of one, but it is the story behind the data, which makes statistics so much more interesting. Thanks for your comment.
    Connie

  4. Dani Wang says

    I’ve been doing this in my project, I feel so vindicated now :) . Every video gamer knows story is key in the best games, and my thinking is that e-learning should feel a little like a game!

  5. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Dani,
    Glad you’ve been vindicated or validated or verified or something like that. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make all eLearning feel a little like a game?
    Best,
    Connie

  6. Jordan says

    My personal learning style is geared towards stories for many of the reasons you’ve listed here. It’s funny how much easier it is to relate concepts and ideas if there’s a story to go along. This is definitely something to keep in mind when creating course content, even though it may be a bit challenging at first to turn material from pure facts to a creative story.

    Wonderful post!

  7. Jon Thomas (@Story_Jon) says

    Connie,

    Thanks so much for attending my session and for writing this post! I’m glad you found it useful and spread it to your engaged audience. Stories are part of our DNA. We’ve been telling them for centuries upon centuries. There’s no reason that they’ll stop being effective today! While stories have a basic structure, they do come in many different shapes and sizes. It’s simply about finding the story that will resonate with your audience.

    Thanks again!

    Jon

  8. Connie Malamed says

    It was my pleasure to share this, Jon. This topic really resonates with readers of The eLearning Coach as we become more aware of the value of stories for improving motivation, comprehension, retention and recall.

    Best,
    Connie

  9. Adam Neaman says

    Thanks for this. Lots of great points. I’d add a few others that come from the case-based reasoning literature:

    1. Real expertise is built on the tacit knowledge that comes from experience. We know this instinctively – no one hires a doctor, a lawyer, or a CEO based on test scores or coursework. Stories are the best way of communicating the knowledge that is embedded in experience, short of actually giving learners the opportunity to practice themselves (which isn’t always possible).

    2. Rules and principles tend to be brittle where stories can be applied to situations much more flexibly. A small mismatch between a rule and a situation often leads to the rule being dismissed as irrelevant. In contrast, with stories, people can usually adapt the lessons embedded in stories to a much broader set of analogous situations. Arguably, this is at the heart of cognition – I have an experience that is represented as a story in my memory, and it reminds me of relevant prior experiences (i.e., more stories) that I use to make sense of the new experience.

  10. Laura says

    Hi

    How can I do something like that? what software should I use? (as the guy from the BBC)
    Nice story telling example

    Regards
    Laura

  11. Helen says

    I’m developing engineering training – teaching how to read tech drawings, execute changes to drawings, designing screw threading for parts, corrosion prevention, etc. Please let me know how I might use stories in this type of training. thanks!

  12. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Helen,
    First of all, storytelling is probably not the solution for every type of training. But it often is a good solution. In your case, two types of stories come to mind. One would be an overall story, for example, a complex job with a tough deadline is approaching and a new engineer needs to quickly get better at reading tech drawings. He or she must learn from some of the experienced people around the organization. This is your apprentice-master setup. You can allow the learner to select questions or to select answers and to get context-sensitive responses.

    Another idea is to simply add small workplace scenarios that require reading tech drawings. Add a little tension, challenge or friction to each scenario. I hope this helps and I hope others chime in with ideas!
    Best,
    Connie

  13. David Sollars says

    Connie, I still remember many of the lessons and the characters that told the stories, while I was sitting in my uncle’s town barbershop. Your points are spot on, stories bring data to life.

    Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, writes “everything in a story gets it’s emotional weight and meaning based on how it effects the protagonist.” Stories help us all illustrate our own protagonist journey and effectively share our lessons with others through the power of story.

    Hans Rosling’s viseo in brilliant because he connects the story of us, the wars and industrial revolution with his own story, born in 1948. These threshold moments anchor us in the meaning of the material and goes beyond the wonderful use of technology.

    Great article.

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