Why You Need To Include Narrative In Your Online Learning

Why You Need To Include Narrative In Your Online Learning
Summary: Since the dawn of human civilization, stories have held immense power. If that's the case, why aren't we using the power of narrative in training?

Including Narrative In Your Online Learning

When you’re designing a learning plan, there’s a huge list of things to do. Unfortunately, the engagement strategy is often left off of that list. Many learning managers think that engagement is something they can remedy after the training has been implemented. By taking this approach, it’s often too late to fix an engagement issue. An engagement strategy isn’t something you can attach later – the learning plan needs to be built around it.

Let’s say you wanted to make a blockbusting movie about a haunted house. You only have around $15,000 to spend, so you’re limited to taking low-resolution camcorder footage from around your house. If it’s going to be a success, the movie-going public will need to feel an emotional connection – for that, you need to take them on a journey.

That’s exactly what director, Oren Peli1 did, and by shooting his grainy night-vision camera footage around an engaging storyline, his movie Paranormal Activity grossed $193M globally at the box office.

Emotional Engagement Works

The entire entertainment industry hinges on the fact that people love a good story. Now, businesses and brands are telling more stories, with more and more citing ‘storytelling’ as a business competency that creates that emotional link with their customers.

With the rise of sites like Amazon and TripAdvisor, people are more interested in the reviews and stories around a product and more suspicious of advertising promises. The marketing community understands the power of emotional engagement and their number-one tool is storytelling.

Using Stories Improves Knowledge Retention

The main benefit to using narrative in training is that stories are easier to remember. The Method of Loci is an ancient memory recall technique that’s still used by world-class memory champions Gary Shang2 who used it to memorize pi to more than 65,000 digits!

It simply involves creating a story in your mind containing all the elements you want to recall. Let’s say you want to remember to pick up milk, eggs, a newspaper and some apology chocolates at the shop. You would craft a journey where you meet a cow and a chicken – maybe the chicken is reading a newspaper with a photo of that vase you accidentally broke on the front page.

That’s a simplified version, but imagine how much easier it would be for your learners to remember customer service best practice if it’s put in a context they can relate to.

Telling Your Organization’s Story

According to one employee survey3 only 9 percent of non-managers and 15 percent of managers have positive views of their organizational culture. This disconnect is mainly due to poorly communicating the company’s vision and values.

Any training initiative has one goal at its core: Behavior change. If your employees don’t understand your organization, it’ll be hard to encourage the kinds of behaviors that are of most benefit.

It’s important to communicate the purpose of the organization and reinforce that message at every opportunity. Using narrative in a learning program isn’t the same as writing a novel. Instead of creating an epic tome in one go, every learning item is a piece of a larger puzzle. By using a consistent message across all content, the puzzle will look a lot prettier when you see it as a whole!

Putting The Learners In The Story

Even with a compelling story in front of them, your employees won’t necessarily see where they fit. You need to make them feel like the central character, without whom there’s no hope of a happy ending.

You could say tell your customer service employees to help as many customers as possible, but that’s not a narrative that’s going to hold their attention. Instead, they are the face of the organization, the walking, talking representatives of the business – they are the ambassadors of their own little embassies!

Show them how their job is the most important job in the organization and without them, the whole ship would sink. Clarifying the link between individual and organizational goals can go a long way to securing engagement and changing behavior.

Stories In Learning Management Systems

Learning platforms have long been simple applications that do a single job – deliver and assess learning content. The potential for turning them into complete employee engagement platforms is enormous.

The evolution of the learning platform has failed to deal with some of the major problems facing organizations today. The user interface seldom gives admins control over the kind of learning journey their learners will relate to most.

It’s not the end of the world though. A few outliers are making a real effort to create learning platforms that are more flexible. With a few simple UI changes, it’s possible to turn an everyday LMS into an immersive learning environment. Stay tuned to eLearning Industry where I'll tell you a few ways to weave narrative into your training programme, or check out the Growth Engineering blog.



  1. 20 low budget movies that became massive blockbusters
  2. A slice of π : An exploratory neuroimaging study of digit encoding and retrieval in a superior memorist
  3. Your Employees Probably Don't Understand Your Company Culture
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