Getting training lessons to “stick” is one of the hardest aspects of designing eLearning programs. If the message is too dry or uninspired, attention will fade or wander during the course. If your message is too “fast and loose,” you run the risk of entertaining your audience without giving them any real takeaways. Thankfully, introducing balance to your message delivery method is as simple as following the lead of eLearning powerhouses: storytelling in eLearning drives your point home in a lasting, memorable way by using a coherent, flowing narrative.
Why Tell Stories During Training?
Using storytelling in training is also both simple and effective, regardless of audience demographics – making it ideal for crafting dynamic cross-training styled programs. It helps project themselves into characters, letting them experience the message as if they were living it. This mechanism cements your takeaways in their memory, ensuring that they use your tips and practices after the course, rather than simply learning rote facts they’ll quickly forget.
So, before you dive deep into how to introduce storytelling in eLearning, stop and think for a moment. Why is it that we start learning (even unconsciously) with nursery rhymes? And no matter how old we grow, we look for stories all around. We are actively involved in either cooking up stories, narrating them, adding more to them or simply listening. Discussions suck when there’s no story. Creating, narrating and listening come very naturally to us. So, why do we ignore this very crucial aspect when designing eLearning courses? Storytelling has been around from the times of human existence and will stay forever. Integrating them into the learning material makes so much sense.
How to Introduce Storytelling in eLearning?
As you create your story, always keep the “3 Cs” in mind: consistency, character development and conclusion. Make them central to these five easy steps to master digital storytelling in eLearning and craft an amazing, memorable lessons:
1. Assume Your Role as Storyteller
Human brains are hard-wired to respond to stories. Throughout history, humans have used stories, fables and narratives to send across the ideas, explain dangers and highlight opportunities. Business carries on this tradition today, and digital storytelling traverses industries, job positions and companies. As you begin to assemble your lesson, remember these tips:
- The storyteller – you, in this case – is responsible for being an enthusiasm ambassador for your story. While adult audiences probably don’t need “the voices”, they do need a tone that leads the way for excitement and attention.
- If you don’t believe in the story you’re telling, you can bet your audience won’t, either. Additionally, you’ll need to craft your story for your audience. Don’t just write what you think is funny or interesting, write what they think is funny or interesting.
- Solicit opinions during the creation process if you find your story veering into personal preference territory too often or running long.
2. Pick Your Character (s)
Who is the star of your story? Describe your main characters and illustrate them in detail, so that the audience will recognize them throughout the story. Ideally, your audience should be able to identify in some way with the character, as it is this connection that will help make your points “stick” after the story is concluded. Not sure where to begin? Start with these ideas:
- Work in local or organizational “inside jokes” to make your character more relatable, if you’d like – perhaps they like a favorite local sports team, or experience the same frustration with traffic on a local highway.
- Don’t use more than two or three main characters, if at all possible, or your audience may find the story difficult to follow.
- Flesh out personalities for your characters, even if you don’t incorporate every aspect in the story itself. It will help you portray them as authentic and help your audience empathize with their actions.
…and Stick With Them
Consistency is the primary trait of a good story – consider classic tales like Goldilocks or Red Riding Hood. The crux of these timeless stories is a familiar repetition – “This bed/porridge/chair is too…” and “My grandmother, what big…” – that invites the listener to fill in the blanks, either mentally or verbally, with the next answer.
- Determine a character and make their thoughts and actions consistent throughout your story. Don’t make them act uncharacteristically without a believable “trigger” or reason.
- If you’re designing your main character(s) as a cautionary tale, make sure they make the same type of mistakes until they learn their lesson.
- Use their thoughts and actions to define characters without overdoing it on back story; let your audience mentally flesh them out along the story’s journey.
3. Give Your Character(s) a Compelling Journey
Giving specific challenges to your character helps shine a spotlight on the concepts you’d like to drive home. Remember repetition is helpful when using storytelling in training, and consider following the template of classic fairy tales – three challenges, for example.
If you name the number of challenges in the introduction, all the better – your audience will listen and anticipate each challenge as your tale weaves on, and you’ll have a built-in method for driving the story along and signaling when it’s coming to a conclusion.
- Build in parallels to a typical audience member’s workday – the same morning email overload, or the same after-lunch rush, to add authenticity to your character’s plight.
- Define your characters’ choices, both good and bad, and have them visually mull over consequences (or forget them entirely, if that’s the message) to remind your audience of the message.
- Avoid the temptation to draw out the journey beyond the 20-minute mark; time your delivery and keep it tight.
4. Use Brevity to Your Advantage
Stories are meant to be entertaining and deliver an important message or two – they shouldn’t drag on, or you risk diluting the message with listener irritation that it’s gone on too long. Adult attention spans last reliably for approximately 20 minutes; any longer than that and you risk attention falling off. Don’t rush through your presentation; record yourself speaking to make sure you’re speaking clearly if you’ll be talking while using storytelling in training courses.
- Sticking with three challenges and making the paths between each one efficient will serve as an excellent framework for telling a memorable story.
- You may find that you need to create several drafts of your story and solicit opinions before your success in storytelling in eLearning will be realized. But don’t fret; rough drafts just help polish your final story.
- If possible, ask a member of your potential audience to look over your proposed digital storytelling and offer suggestions.
- A survey administered after the lesson can help you achieve proper time-targeting during your next story.
5. Remind Your Listeners of the Moral
You’ve brought your listeners along for a journey. You’ve introduced them to compelling characters. You’ve helped them see themselves as a part of your narrative.
Now, the moment of truth: getting them to remember the rationale, moral or action you’d like them to take to heart. Digital storytelling for business should carefully emphasize important points after the story to drive home the message in each presentation.
- “Recap” during your closing speech or slide with an easy-to-digest series of bullet points on the story.
- Even if your audience has been paying close attention, they may have forgotten about the first lesson in their excitement and anticipation of the third. If you are offering any paper handouts or administering a test on the contents of your story, the material should more or less come from this bullet-pointed summary.
- Do use digital handouts! If you take the expectation of note taking out of the picture during the storytelling itself, your audience can actually enjoy and immerse themselves in the story instead of jotting points down.
- Remember to draw some correlations between the challenges the character(s) faced and the real-life scenarios that your listeners will be using these morals for.
If you’ve followed the steps and stayed true to your voice and lessons, you should have, at the very least, a rough story draft that you can be proud of. While you might not write the next great American novel on your first try, you’ll find that storytelling is not only a natural way to connect with your audience, it makes designing your delivery that much easier as well. When you need to convey important points to your audience without risking boredom, just think about the enduring quality of fairy tales and write an unforgettable story.