Four Ways to Incorporate Storytelling in Your Next E-Learning Course

Several years ago, frustration with my job search was approaching critical mass. I had many skills, but I couldn’t see how they were connected. On a rainy Tuesday afternoon over Mayan Mochas, I vented to a friend, “I am a professional Frankenstein!” To my surprise, she disagreed. She said, “You think your interests are scattered, but there’s a pattern. You’re a storyteller.” That realization helped shape my career path and is part of what led me to e-learning.

Now working as both an e-learning writer and project manager, I’ve seen first-hand that integrating storytelling into courses can be highly effective. Stories provide an immersive experience that emotionally connects the learner to the content. If, like me, you’re always looking for ways to improve your storytelling, I suggest reading Ted Talks Storytelling: 23 Techniques from the Best TED Talks, by Akash Karia.

Here are four of Karia’s TED-talk-inspired storytelling tips that are especially useful in e-learning.

1. Open strong.

Open your e-learning courses with a story. Put it before the learning objectives. The learners already know the topic and title. So draw them in with a compelling narrative. I could have opened this blog post by saying, “As an e-learning project manager, I’ve found stories to be one of the most powerful tools.” That’s not a bad sentence. While true, it lacks the zest of the first story. You wouldn’t know that discovering this skill became a pivotal moment in my career.

2. Embrace conflict.

Including a scenario or story in your e-learning is a good start. But don’t be afraid to wade into your learners’ uncertainties and objections. This is especially valuable if you expect push-back. Resist the temptation to fill your stories with characters who already agree with you.

Imagine what would have happened to the Star Wars trilogy if Darth Vader had said, “You’re right—we shouldn’t try to take over the galaxy.” Similarly, your courses won’t be as effective if your characters blindly agree that a new initiative is worthwhile or that the new computer system is the answer to all their problems.

Give skepticism a voice and guide learners through common mistakes. Conflict makes your story interesting and you can use it to show the learner the consequences of potential mistakes.

3. Tell a personal story.

Personal stories reach people more than generic ones. Ask your subject-matter experts (SMEs) for real-life examples. Take the story of a real person’s struggle and use it to inject authenticity into your course. It will resonate more with your learners, and your learning objectives will come to life. Your learners will sympathize with the characters in your e-learning, because they may have made those same mistakes or share fears and hopes with the characters. Once again, I could have opened the post with a more clinical story. But it wouldn’t have the same effect.

4. Focus on the key takeaway.

Karia has noticed that the best TED talks have a clear message for the audience. Your stories need the same certainty and clarity. Use stories to reinforce your most important points, and make sure your learners know what they are supposed to take away from the story. The real power of e-learning reveals itself after the learner closes the browser window. Make sure your audience knows what to do moving forward. Otherwise, they might enjoy the stories and the course overall but won’t necessarily change their behavior.

If something is important enough to be a part of your organization’s e-learning, it probably has a story. All of your content has a purpose. Storytelling is an effective way to reveal that purpose to your learners for better engagement and training that sticks.

How have you used storytelling in your e-learning?

Sharon Gutowski
Artisan E-Learning

7 Responses to “Four Ways to Incorporate Storytelling in Your Next E-Learning Course

  • Thanks for this useful post! It nicely summarizes the crux of storytelling technique.

    • Sharon Gutowski
      8 years ago

      Thank you! It’s one my favorite parts of this job.

  • Thanks for this informative post. Storytelling is one of the must have skills for everyone its not only for bloggers and marketers. It should be practiced by teachers and we can stand apart from our peers if we have this skill.

    • Sharon Gutowski
      8 years ago

      I agree! I’ve heard some people talking about the relationship between science and storytelling recently. That’s an intriguing case study for sure. Good point about standing out.

      • Hey Sharon, How are you doing?

        Storytelling is mixture of science and art specially when we do it in marketing. We can strengthen our marketing and increase our traffic and conversion with proper integration and mixture of art and science.

  • Betsy Rice
    7 years ago

    Nice post. Storytelling is also a good way to engage the learner on an emotional level, which enhances knowledge retention and increases a feeling of connection. Feeling connected with the larger business goals is especially important during the on boarding process and can help reduce early attrition.

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