Tell me a story, Teacher!

Are Stories A Better Way to Engage Online Learners?

Ever read/listened to stories from Panchatantra, the ancient Indian collection of animal fables? Its author Vishnu Sharma spun these tales to impart political knowledge and worldly wisdom to three dullard princes. 

Now, why am I giving you a prelude to the Panchatantra? To remind you of the power of stories and storytelling. Use the power of stories to create relatable content that can enhance comprehension and increase learner engagement. 

Why storytelling in an e-learning course?

Stories have the ability to hook us and connect with us at an emotional level. Great stories have the power to change minds and prompt actions. The objective of a good e-learning course is just the same. Hook the learner, connect with them emotionally, and deliver a course that is instructionally effective. 

Story elements, when used intelligently in an e-learning course can enhance learner engagement. Not just that, learning becomes more immersive as your learners can relate to the content. 

How can you integrate stories into your e-learning course?

While we know that stories can create magic, the real problem is crafting an e-learning course that has relevant stories woven around the course content. Here are a few tips that you can use to integrate storytelling into your course. 

Tip 1: Begin with the end in mind

Before you come up with the story, be clear about the actions that you want your learners to take and the benefits they’ll derive from the story. Aim to personalize your learners’ learning experience.

Consider the scenario where you and I, an e-learning team for a large vocational skills provider, are invited to build a series of e-learning courses for young graduates looking for job-ready skills. This is our end goal – to deliver engaging e-learning weaving in stories for a particular target persona. How do we do this? Read on!

Tip 2: Have an interesting storyline

The storyline you design must be meaningful and engaging to your learners. The story will fail to meet its purpose if it is not relevant to the learners. Introduce the characters at the beginning of your e-learning course and use them throughout. Also, for a better emotional connection with your learners, your story must evolve throughout the narrative. You could think of your storyline as a string and each topic to be pearls which when strung together become a beautiful pearl necklace.

Let us, as an example, weave our own little story here. Best buddies Ben and Betty, are just out of college and looking for a job. They soon realise that they are not exactly job-ready. They decide on subscribing to a vocational course. Let us weave a story about their learning adventures! 

Tip 3: Have a story arc

Have a story arc for each topic – start the topic with a scenario, narrate the normal world, bring in a conflict or a problem, followed by its resolution. One important thing to consider here is to use the main characters of your story throughout the core content of your course and not introduce new characters every time. 

Continuing our story, Ben has an assignment due and is unable to solve his assignment. Betty comes to his help, as always! Ben submits his assignment on time!

Tip 4: Keep it clear and concise

Complex stories are difficult to comprehend; pay attention to the narrative. Keep the story simple and easily understandable. Tell your story without beating around the bush. Remember, your learners’ time and patience are limited! 

Next on Ben and Betty’s story, let us say that Betty is unable to comprehend a concept and Ben helping her with that. Here, we can start a rather long narrative with Betty learning a relatively difficult concept; she tries and tries again, but fails to comprehend. She doesn’t know what to do. Then, she approaches Ben for help. Instead, we can make it concise by starting our narrative with Betty approaching Ben seeking his help.


 

Spinning a yarn to make a buck
When a client approached us to help build an ‘online user manual’ for their software product we couldn’t think of a better way to do it than through stories. See how we created the characters of Sampad, the ‘mad scientist’ business owner; John, the ever-helpful accountant; and their adventures with accounting software here.


Tip 5: Make your course interactive

Another good technique to create an immersive learning experience is to allow your learners to interact with the story, thereby determining the outcome of the story. Yes, it takes more effort to create such an e-learning course as compared to a traditional course. But, it will, at the same time, make learning more engaging and memorable.  Gamification is, in fact, a tried and tested approach to add interactivity to your course and tell a story as well. You can include interactive activities like quizzes, scenario-based problem-solving exercises or even simulate a multiplayer gaming environment. 

Continuing our narrative, we could gamify Ben trying to learn something on his own, how he stumbles and finally succeeds as a scenario-based problem-solving exercise.

Tip 6: Fortify the core message of your e-learning course

While it is good to unleash your creativity and come up with an interesting and engaging story, it should also offer value to your learners. Pay attention to incorporate the core message – the learning objectives that your course intends to deliver. 

Picking up Ben and Betty’s learning adventures from where we left, in every topic, we can think of them discussing something they are learning or a problem they are facing, and then deep dive straight into what we intend to teach the learners through Ben and Betty’s story. 

Hope you found Ben and Betty’s learning adventures interesting!

In an era of rapidly evolving technology, the good news is that our brain is not evolving at the same rate! Stories are not passé. There’s no denying this –  stories still have that power over our hearts and minds. Whether it is an Instagram story or a WhatsApp status, aren’t those the ones we check the moment we are on those social media platforms?! Use the power of storytelling to make your learners’ experiences more immersive and memorable. 

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