Everyone loves a good story. We are surrounded by stories in social media, movies, advertising and the news. People love to share anecdotes and jokes as a way to connect with each other. The best presenters use stories to capture the audience’s attention at the start.
What about eLearning designers? Do we need to be good at telling stories? Some people would say – ‘no we are creating courses not stories’. While that is true, there are many things eLearning designers can learn from the art of storytelling.
Storytelling is defined as “The telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious; account; narration.” (Denning, 2005)
In this post I will look at elements of a good story and how we can apply these to eLearning design.
1. Good stories are cohesive and well-structured. There are conventions in the way stories are structured – the opening to hook the reader, the middle to develop the story and the end to reach a satisfying resolution.
An eLearning course also needs to be cohesive and well-structured. When planning a course, ask yourself:
- ‘What elements will hold the course together?’.
- ‘How will I hook the learners on the first few screens?’
- ‘What is the most logical way to sequence the course content?’
Certainly visual design is important to create a cohesive look and feel. But what about the course structure? Do your screens jump from topic to topic with no common thread? Is there a story that you could use to hold the topics together?
For example if you are designing a course ‘Provide Coaching and Mentoring’, you could introduce two characters at the start – Jan, the mentor, and Sara the mentee. The characters can introduce each new topic and talk about their experience of the mentoring process…how they met, how they planned their first meeting, how they set goals with each other and so on.
I like Articulate’s Storyline because it encourages eLearning designers to think in terms of ‘telling a story’. It features ‘Story View’ where the designer sees an aerial view of the course (the story), including scenes (the chapters) and slides (the pages). This helps to make sense of how the course is going to fit together. Screens and scenes can be easily rearranged. Story View encourages creativity because there are so many different ways that you can structure the course; for example using branched scenarios.
2. Good stories are memorable.
Usually it is the people in a story that we remember the most. You can certainly design an eLearning course without people in it, but it might not be very engaging.
I like the way Articulate’s Storyline provides characters that you can insert quickly and easily. Sure the learner might not remember the characters like they remember Harry Potter, but at least they are more likely to relate to the character and this can assist learning.
The example here is from the Articulate website. The quiz was created in Storyline and the character is one of Storyline’s photographic characters. They come in a range of poses and expressions so you can use the same character throughout the course.
If you are designing a course for security experts, insert images of one security expert in different poses throughout the course. Give the security expert a name and put him or her in different work situations that the learners are likely to face. Talk to the Subject Matter Expert if you need details to make the situation more realistic.
3. Good stories are often about overcoming problems.
We are social creatures who like to relate to other people. This is why scenarios are so fantastic for eLearning courses. For example a workplace scenario typically presents a challenge or problem that the character faces – and then the learner is asked ‘What would you do?’. This encourages the learner to think for themselves. All the best stories are about overcoming problems!
Imagine you are creating a course about Equal Employment Opportunity. You could think of a central character who faces a struggle. The obvious one is that she faces discrimination on the basis of her disability. Introduce the character to learners and insert an image of her. Return to her throughout the course. Describe her experience at job interviews. Ask the learners questions about how prospective employers communicated with her. And if you like, make it a happy ending where she finally lands her dream job. The learners are likely to remember the character in your course.
Of course story telling is not going to be appropriate for all eLearning courses. It will depend on the purpose of the course, the target learners and other considerations.
I would like to finish with two quotes about the power of stories:
“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” John Kotter, Harvard Business School Professor
“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.” Dr Pamela Rutledge
B Online Learning offers Certified Articulate training workshops (http://bonlinelearning.com.au/articulate-training) around Australia and custom on site Articulate training. Browse our website for more information on all our training and solutions that enable clients and students to build better eLearning.