Think about the last speech you heard. Do you remember all the facts and statistics? Or, do you remember the details of the story the speaker (hopefully) shared to illustrate their point? I’m willing to bet you recall the story—the problem, the characters, the climax, the solution, and how that story made you feel. It’s a similar situation with eLearning. The power of story helps us engage learners with the eLearning content we deliver.
Imagine that you’re assigned a project to develop eLearning content that supports a new software program that tracks customer calls. Here are some step-by-step suggestions about how you can put the power of story to use in that content:
Identify the issue. At the crux of every good story is a problem. Romeo and Juliet loved each other, but their families disapproved. In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Tom Robinson is accused of crimes he didn’t commit. Your eLearning content may not provide such dramatic issues, but your first step is to find a problem—one to which learners will relate—that needs solving and also relates to your content.
Example story: A new online system for tracking customer calls has been launched. The problem? One user doesn’t understand how to use the system to track calls.
Choose the characters. Next, you need to identify some key characters that will help the story come to life. Find the Romeo and Juliet, or Tom Robinson in your story. What do they look like? What are their names? How do they feel? Name the characters and choose images that represent those characters from the library of cutout people images available from eLearning Brothers.
Example: Anna is the customer contact representative who can’t understand the system (she’s nervous and scared). Eduard, from IT, knows how to use the system (he’s relaxed). Anna’s manager is Matt (he’s frustrated).
Create the climax. For a story to take off, the problem needs to evolve into a crisis.
Example: Due to her inability to use the required software, Manager Matt puts Anna on an action plan. She must start using the new system within the next week, or she risks being fired.
Find the solution. This presents a twist that shows how the character addresses the situation and finds a way to solve the problem.
Example: During a frantic call to the Help Desk, Anna talks with Eduard. He offers to help her learn how to use the system. He then proceeds to show her the three steps she didn’t understand about how to use the system. Anna then practices the steps that she learned from Eduard.
Achieve resolution. Finally, once the character has faced obstacles and overcome challenges, the story is ready to conclude. These reflect on key points, offer closure, and perhaps emotionally connect the participant to the content.
Example: Anna receives a customer call and must put the steps to use. When she’s able to do so successfully, she calls Eduard and outlines for him (and the learners reviewing the content) three key things she needed to know. Manager Matt congratulates Anna on learning how to use the system, and he tells her three ways that her new skills are helping her be more efficient in her job.
Don’t forget to use a variety of eLearning tools within the story to make it even more engaging for learners. For example, you might use:
- Video to illustrate how Anna learns to use the system
- Quizzes to confirm what actions Anna needs to take
- An interaction that allows learners to find the information Anna requires in the system
When you include a story in your eLearning content, participants will walk away from the course happier than if you’d force fed them statistics and slide after slide of information to digest. Thanks to an engaging story, they’re able to relate to the content, they retain more of what they’ve learned, and they enjoy the process along the way. They might even connect emotionally to the content, which is where the real power of story begins—that’s a happy ending we can all embrace.
Liz Sheffield is a freelance writer with a background in training and development. She specializes in writing about everything related to the human side of business. You can contact her via LinkedIn or Twitter.