How to harness the power of storytelling


ne of the most important criteria to making your online learning courses be memorable and engaging is by creating learning content that your learners care about. Scenarios can help you do this.

Humans were made to listen to stories. For generations stories have been used to keep us entertained, to communicate with one another and to share useful and vital information. But why is it that they work so well in online training courses?

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A study conducted at Northeastern University in Boston explored the effects of stories on our attention spans. The subjects of the experiment were presented with different characters and situations, presenting varied perspectives and decisions made in mapping out a scenario. The study participants were then shown images relating to these scenarios. The results showed that the stories that generated the most brainwave activity were those which were detailed, had elements of suspense and related directly to the subject. Through intrigue, the participants were engaged and their mental antennae was tuned in to tales which allowed them to connect directly to the content. 

Stories ignite our attention.

We all know that capturing the attention of your audience when presenting online learning is an absolute must when creating online learning courses. Scenarios can help with this too!

Capturing the attention of your audience is necessary to allow neurons to activate, and connections to be formed in the brain which create deeper and more substantial learning. Our brains have quite a limited attention span and were not created to remain focussed for long periods of time. Stories can help to re-engage the brain and refresh it by lightening the cognitive load and providing a (sometimes much needed!) period to refresh and refocus.

It’s nothing new to say that if we are personally interested in a topic then we are more likely to pay attention. So… use stories based on a topic your learner is interested in! For example, say you have a group of learners who need to learn about spelling. Perhaps you could have them fix the spelling in a text and genre that interests them. This encourages them to read and participate.

Telling effective stories captures the attention of learners.

So what should our stories look like?

Have a narrative arc

Firstly, use a narrative arc. Learners are going to be more likely to respond to a real story with a beginning, a middle and an end. By providing the learners with some structure to the story they will be able to follow along with clarity and engage more with the content.

Involve your learners

Secondly, take opportunities to include your learners themselves in the scenarios. Perhaps by pausing a story to gather input from your learners, you are able to include them in the experience, force them to engage with the content and therefore create more memorable learning experiences. This also gives them the opportunity to insert themselves into the learning, relating it back to their own experiences and will be more likely to retain information. 

Entertain and relate

And lastly, make them entertaining and relevant. Don’t just include stories for the sake of it, but use them to shine a light on your learning outcomes. The more entertaining the stories are, the more attention your learners are going to pay to them and thus the more knowledge they are going to gain from the learning experience. 

More on storytelling to improve training outcomes:

Webinar on demand: HowToo AI - where neuroscience and AI coverage

Leveraging the power of storytelling with AI

3 Tips for writing powerful stories for eLearning courses

4 Reasons you should be telling stories in your training

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Aug 6, 2020
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