Let me tell you a story. It’s about how human beings learn better when they experience empathy and familiar patterns. It begins with the introduction of our key protagonist, the art of storytelling herself.  

The art of storytelling has been around pretty much since the dawn of time. We like to imagine human beings, before language was invented, telling stories to each other through grunts and enthusiastic gesticulation, or, in their more sophisticated moments, through drawings on cave walls. We think of these as the first story boards. 

Storytelling isn’t just ancient, she’s popular too. Why? Because she’s captivating, engaging, easy to relate to, and there’s usually something familiar about her. She makes even the most boring things more interesting and, once you’ve met her, she’s hard to forget. 

Since leaving the cave, she has made appearances on the pages of books, newspapers and magazines, in movies and on television and, finally, online. 

Why storytelling is such a powerful learning tool 

Stories are memorable because they stimulate cognitive empathy (putting ourselves in other peoples’ shoes) and mnemonic skills (recognizing patterns and making associations). Research from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information has revealed that these two skills are what help human beings navigate their social environments.

Stories create empathy 

Stories are a social, anecdotal way of learning. They are about sharing ideas and experience. They make information more relatable by placing it within context. So, the learner is not just listening, they are actually picturing the scenario and often imagining themselves in it. In this way, stories establish connection and stimulate empathy. These emotions trigger responses from multiple, corresponding parts of our brains. This makes the information that we receive through a story more memorable because it’s hitting more buttons than if we were to simply read a 2-dimensional textbook. The social, anecdotal nature of stories also makes them more likely to be shared, encouraging knowledge transfer within an organization. 

Stories use familiar patterns 

One of the things that makes storytelling so powerful is that it is such a familiar structure and one of the best ways to connect with your audience because it taps into emotional memory. Story structure is hard-wired into the human brain because it is something that humans have experienced since the beginning of time. 

Stories follow a consistent pattern. They involve a beginning, a middle and an end – an idea, a narrative, and a conclusion. This pattern taps into our mnemonic memory, our predisposition towards memorising through patterns and associations. The familiar structure allows us to focus entirely on the contents (the message), and not the vehicle (the mode of delivery). 

Stories encourage reflection and self-awareness

Stories also help us commit things to memory through reflection. A really good story will make you pause and reflect after it’s told. You’ll be thinking about it for a while, and you might even ask the question: “What would I do differently next time?”

4 things you need to know about telling stories in digital learning 

Although there are many things to think about when creating stories for your digital programs, they do fall into 4 key areas.

1.  Keep it short & straightforward – try not to communicate more than one major point in each story.

2. Pay attention to structure – give it a beginning, middle and end, an idea, a narrative, and an outcome, like this:

  • Scenario – introduce your characters and the challenge or problem to be solved. 
  • Solution – explain how the situation was addressed. 
  • Outcome – relate the outcome of the chosen course of action

It’s also important to give the learner the opportunity to reflect on the story and its lesson at the end, so they can think about how they can improve on the outcome. 

3. Mix up the format and use visuals – bring your stories to life by creating narrative journeys that stimulate different parts of the brain. You might make up stories, use actual case studies, or anecdotes. Either way, use different mediums such as video, photographs, infographics, audio recordings, music, or animation to tell the story.

4. Consider making it interactive – Giving the learner an active role in the story helps engage and learn actively. You might do this by empowering them to make decisions that determine the outcome of the story, or simply by having them indicate when they are ready to take the story to the next stage. 

Need a helping hand?

If you would like to find out more about how to use storytelling in your e-learning programs, get in touch with our team at Motimate Creative Studio.