Did you know that it is National Share-A-Story-Month here in the UK? The Federation of Children’s Book Groups dedicates May to introducing children and families to exciting new forms of storytelling. So, it seems like a great time to consider how we can use stories in elearning to create great experiences.

The FCBC isn’t just interested in promoting storytelling because it helps kids to read. Psychology studies have shown that storytelling in many forms is emotionally and intellectually enriching for children. It can be a way of helping them deal with real life situations. They encounter frightening things in a safe environment and learn more about the world. They learn empathy and how to understand the conflicing motives of those around them.

That’s great, but what about adult learners? Surely stories are “kid’s stuff,” and won’t make the same impact for grown-ups?

Don’t you believe it! All human cultures tell stories. Telling stories is so universal to the human experience that psychologists suggest we’re hard wired to learn and share information through storytelling. As social creatures, we seem to latch onto topics which engage our heart and not just our head. It’s why gonzo journalism is so popular. It’s why plenty of people with a rusty grasp on international politics know the details of a war that took place in an Empire a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.

Elearning and Stories.

This is good news for compliance or procedural training situations. They are inherently context based, in contrast to more abstract academic learning. Solving problems in the real world doesn’t just rely on knowledge. You may have to examine multiple points of view, experiment with different approaches, arrive at a consensus with others or deal with the impact of making a wrong choice. It’s the kind of emotional and situational complexity you can find in a good story. Storytelling also provides examples of the relevance and practical application of learning: something which theorists like Malcolm Knowles and John Keller suggest adult learners crave.

Elements of a Great Elearning Story.

Turns out that the things which make an elearning story and scenario aren’t that different from the things which make a good story, full stop. Let’s take a look at  storytelling elements and how they apply to elearning stories and scenarios.



Characters are the actors in the story. Often, the learner will take the place of an employee in a similar role to them. This helps to emphasize the relevance of the situation to their own work. There are other options, though. The protagonist may be a new or inexperienced colleague who has come to the learner for help and advice. This empowers the learner by placing them in a position of seniority. It also raises the stakes because nobody wants to give bad advice! Although you may not get much chance to inject your characters with complex backstories or unique attributes, it is important to give them different personalities and motivations. Add in details to increase immersion. Everyone wants to give sound financial advice to a family man who is saving to take his kids on holiday.


Complicating action.

The vast majority of stories in Western literary tradition have a moment of conflict. This could be a task to complete or an issue to solve. For a more dramatic twist, a task may have already been completed but incorrectly, leaving the learner to pick up the pieces. This is the point where it is useful to draw on the knowledge of SMEs who have first hand experiences of problems.
Some may argue that not all stories need a conflict at the beginning to be interesting or didactic. In Japanese and Chinese tradition, the Kishōtenketsu narrative structure relies on a twist or change in perspective mid way through. Perhaps the learner follows a path, only to discover new information which causes them to re-evaluate their point of view.


Development and New Directions.

Whatever the scenario or conflict, the actions of the learner must impact the direction of events. This could mean a learner discovering they have made a bad choice by seeing the consequences. Or, perhaps there no ideal solution. The learner must make further decisions based on the consequences as the story developsPerhaps there is a twist in the tale. A a character who seemed confident and knowledgeable supplied incorrect information. Something which worked well earlier in the scenario no longer works as the situation has changed. This kind of complexity helps engage a learners critical thinking and ensures their aren’t sailing through the course by guessing what the developer “wants” them to do.

Conclusion and Consequences.

The end of your story will probably end with an explanation of the result of the series of events. This may include a quick reminder of actions taken and their consequences. It’s an important learning moment where you get feedback on your actions which you can use in the future. That might mean retaking elearning to see if you can do better with a bit of foreknowledge. It can also mean doing better in real life.  Rather than an abstract narrator stepping in to deliver omnipotent judgement, why not stick with your characters and have them discuss what occurred and whether it was a good solution?
There are many other narrative tips and tricks out there that you may wish to explore. At GLAD we offer range of elearning solutions featuring interesting stories and complex scenarios. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your business, email us at   enquiries@embridgeconsulting.com. You can also follow us on Twitter.
Share This