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reflections of the team

My 5 Tips for Storytelling in Learning

Storytelling can engage your audience in learning. These are my 5 tips in how to get started.

Imagine you're a vendor of ice cream on a busy 1 mile long beach strip in Spain. Now imagine there is a rival ice cream vendor, right next to you, claiming the better ice cream. Those sunlovers are just lining up for him. There is only one way you could convince them: by serving the discount ice cream. Oh yes, buy 2 cones, get one for free! Competition is key and you're back into the game.

Unsplash_Ice Cream

This is how I learned economics. When I went to Uni, it was my first encounter with those wretched numbers and at first, it did not bode well for me.

However, my professor used storytelling in every class. Every lesson, he would talk about preparing sandwiches to sell, about competition over ice cream prices, basically any subject that would speak to the average Psychology student.

And let me tell you, I totally failed that course. At first. But I was engaged and I did not give up. I wanted to understand. And after trying again, I succeeded, with a nice grade too!

Storytelling in learning

Using storytelling in learning solutions can seem like the extra mile that you are not always willing to take. Increased efficiency, rapid due dates, low budget… These all seem like potential obstacles, but they don't have to be.

The Magical Triangle of Storytelling involves finding the perfect equilibrium between yourself as the storyteller, the message you want to convey and what your audience wants to hear. 

The Magical Triangle of Storytelling involves finding the perfect equilibrium between yourself as the storyteller, the message you want to convey and what your audience wants to hear. 

Rather than misguiding your students, your story functions as a map through your learning solution. It helps your audience understand your lesson from the start. Karl Kapp identified it as one of the 11 game mechanics possible for learning and with good reason. 

How can you start with storytelling in learning?

  1. Speak from your own experience
    As someone sending out a message, you will need to battle temporary suspension of disbelief. Especially in learning solutions: learners often feel they are wasting time, they don't need this training etc. When you tell a story, do it from your heart, from what you know. Tap into a passion of yours and engage the receivers within that passion.
    Of course, in practice you won’t always get the chance to construct a learning solution based on something you know or care about. The role of the instructional designer is to get the subject matter expert on board and tap into these exchanges.
  2. Tailor this experience to what the learners know
    Good content is defined by its relevance to its audience. Use an environment, a situation, a person that is familiar to your audience. It will enhance recognition and thus engagement.
    Is this exercise difficult for you, try creating a persona: an average person of your audience. Describe this person's back story, preferences etc. and use these elements to guide you.
  3. Use an element of wonder as the foundation of your story
    The eternal question: Why? They incorporate an essential element in learning: the amazement at how things work. Try answering five "Why" questions within your story for full effect. 
  4. Speak the language of your audience
    Don't go using jargon if they are not familiar with it. But do, if it's an identifier for this audience. Speak a common language so that your audience knows "this was made especially for me".
  5. Get to the point
    You only have a few seconds to snatch the attention of your learners, to convince them of your message and make an impact. Keep it simple.
    But also remember: a good story will take the time needed to tell. 

Of what storytelling example that you yourself have created, are you most proud?