Storytelling In eLearning: Set Your eLearning Apart with Storytelling
Once upon a time in a faraway land, where dark forests grew and rivers of crystal ran, there lived a brave and creative Instructional Designer who was in a spot of bother. One hundred years earlier, a deceitful storyteller swindled the king out of a large sum of gold. In his wrath, the king banned storytelling from his kingdom. Books were burned, their tales lost forever, and campfire narration became a perilous taboo.
But one day, everything changed. Word spread that a mysterious Instructional Designer was using the forbidden art to pass on knowledge and engage and delight the people. The king was outraged. He summoned the Instructional Designer to his castle and gave his ultimatum: “Slay the Dragon of Fire that lives in the Deathcliffe Caves and I will allow storytelling back in my kingdom. Failing this mission will cost you your life, at my hands or by the force of the dragon!”.
An evil laugh exploded deep from the king’s belly as the Instructional Designer set off into the night…
Everyone loves a good story. When done well, storytelling is a powerful mechanism for making eLearning memorable. In fact, adding context can increase knowledge retention, which in turn can increase the return on investment of your eLearning. Appropriate use of storytelling will set your eLearning apart from dull, traditional counterparts.
Storytelling In eLearning Dos
1. Set the scene.
You get one shot to draw in your audience, so it’s important to make the first paragraph count. A successful story starts by introducing the scenario, characters, and the issue or conflict. The narrative then unfolds toward the resolution. Begin by framing the situation using an anecdotal introduction and, importantly, link to key learning messages. Remember to keep the intrigue so learners will want to read on and find out what happens.
2. Heroes, villains, and damsels in distress.
Using characters throughout eLearning can personalize the experience and create a deeper emotional connection with the content. Creating interesting characters can increase engagement, but be sure to make them relatable and relevant to the learner and the content.
3. Consider opportunities for interactivity.
Most people fondly remember the “choose your own adventure” books from childhood. Allowing learners to interact with the story and choose individual outcomes creates an immersive experience that enhances engagement. In an eLearning context, this translates to multi branching scenarios where your learners choose their own way through the content.
4. Choose a thread and tie it through.
As well as a strong narrative introduction and summary, ensure you tie the story in throughout your eLearning. You might start each topic with a section of the story and then refer to characters and situations throughout core content. Using language that supports the story theme throughout the course will also strengthen the story.
5. A happy ever after.
Leave learners with a parting thought that sums up the overarching learning message and the storyline. Refer to the introduction and tie up any narrative loose ends to bookend your story.
Storytelling In eLearning Don’ts
Here are a few cautionary tips for storytelling use in eLearning:
1. Ensure key points don’t become lost in the story.
Keep it structured and consider separating story sections from core content for clarity.
2. Avoid complex storylines.
The story should be simple to follow and support learning without distracting and creating cognitive overload.
3. Be careful not to overdose on analogy, metaphor, and symbolism.
Although these mechanisms have their place, they can also affect the clarity of your message.
So, what became of the courageous Instructional Designer? Well, let’s just say, the kingdom is never short of a good story now, but no dragons were hurt in the process. How was it done? That, dear friend, remains an inner secret in the Instructional Designers’ guild.