We all love a good story, don’t we? It lifts us up from the sofa and deposits us into another world, so we feel like we’re right there, in the middle of it all as the story unfolds around us.
But storytelling isn’t just for books or movies. This powerful yet frequently underestimated tool is also critical for elearning to work well. If your elearning isn’t achieving the results you’d hoped for or expected, it could be because it lacks a compelling narrative to draw people in and make the content easier to understand.
We’ve picked out five reasons why storytelling is a crucial element in the design of great elearning:
1. Brain science
Breakthroughs in scientific research are revealing just how important stories are to the way we understand and connect with the world and each other. Neuroscientist Uri Hasson scanned people’s brains while they were listening to or telling real-life stories. He found that their neurons ‘synced’ in response to the stories. The test subjects’ brains locked into the stories and understood them in a similar way. He concluded that an engaging and coherent story can penetrate deep into the brain to transmit information and knowledge.
Stories have emotional pull, helping people to relate to and connect with the narrative, which in turn makes the content more engaging. But there’s more to emotion than simply engagement. Research suggests that when our emotions come into play, we’re more likely to remember the information. Visual storytelling is particularly powerful in this respect, heightening emotion and increasing impact to make the narrative (and the elearning) more memorable.
Storytelling comes into its own with complicated topics, those that involve lots of information, such as compliance. When it’s hard to get your head around something, a story adds meaning and context which helps people see it and ‘get’ it. Stories also move people through the topic, making the content more manageable so they don’t feel so overwhelmed.
You want people to complete the elearning, otherwise what’s the point? This is where games and gamification are so good. They engage. One of the reasons they engage is down to the narrative used so effectively in game-based learning. Indeed, Professor Karl Kapp, a world authority on learning games, says storytelling is “an essential part”. He explains how a video game and a storyline takes the player forward: “Well designed educational games blend a task-related story with interactive game elements to help the player learn the desired behaviours, actions and thinking patterns that support the desired outcome within a particular context.”
Storytelling is being propelled by technology into a new era and onto a new level. Virtual reality (VR) and other immersive technologies can place the learner inside the story, so that they are part of it. For example, Sponge created dog safety training learning for new postal workers, where, using VR, they navigate the postal round in the first person and must make decisions along the way. By replicating conditions and being realistic, the VR story means the postal workers are better prepared for when they do their first round for real.
Elearning without storytelling is only a fraction of what it could and should be. For it to have maximum impact and engagement, elearning must have storytelling at its heart. The two go hand in hand. And, as technology opens up new opportunities for immersive, realistic storytelling, it’s set to play a starring role in workplace learning in the digital era.