Why Storytelling Works In eLearning

Why Storytelling Works In eLearning
Summary: One of the most effective ways to convey information in eLearning is by getting your audience to care about the content. Creating relatable content via storytelling can help establish a genuine connection, increasing engagement and comprehension.

Reasons Why Storytelling Works In eLearning

Stories have incredible influence on humans, both intellectually and emotionally. Why? Stories communicate information in the exact manner in which we as humans think, how we process and absorb information, how we see ourselves, and how we influence others. In fact, according to Psychology Today, stories are powerful—even in this digital age—because simply put, the human brain hasn't evolved as fast as technology. As such, storytelling is still one of the best ways to connect with your audience. They key is finding the story that is relatable to each person.

Our Brains On Storytelling: Connections And Chemicals

Storytelling mobilizes and stimulates different parts of the brain. When we are told something in the form of a story, we often remember it better than if we simply read it in a textbook. In The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains, it's explained that " … if we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part of the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens."

But how our brains process storytelling is entirely different. When we are told a story, not only does it engage the language-processing areas of our brain, but it engages other areas that are also used when experiencing the story, too.

Research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that cognitive empathy, specifically relating to perspective, is directly tied to overall memory performance.

Compelling storytelling causes its audience to release several chemicals. First, our brains release cortisol which helps with awareness. Next, dopamine helps with arousal which, in turn, gives pleasure. Last, there's oxytocin, which in combination with cortisol, dopamine, and other potential chemicals in the storytelling cocktail, produces action—the grand prize in eLearning storytelling because it changes behavior by changing our brain chemistry.

How Storytelling Is Effective In eLearning

As we’ve discussed previously, there are a number of reasons why storytelling is so effective in eLearning. Storytelling not only serves to create a more immersive experience, but it also motivates learners and encourages an emotional connection to the topic at hand.

Storytelling is one of the most fundamental human commonalities so it’s incredibly powerful, evoking an emotional connection and the facility to recall. Accordingly, it presents an effective delivery method in eLearning to convey information by creating relatable scenarios with which your audience will empathize in order to connect with the content. It taps into one of the oldest, most basic, and authentic forms of interactions humans use to share experiences.

Learning theorists suggest that adult learners must see the relevance of something in order to feel persuaded to learn about it. So in eLearning, explaining concepts in the context of a story—especially those that are complex or confusing—helps learners integrate knowledge in meaningful ways, making the information easier to remember.

According to research, stories about physical pain trigger activity in the same regions of the brain involved in actually experiencing or directly observing physical pain—what neuroscientists call the "extended pain matrix." But stories about emotional suffering trigger activity in different areas of the brain—those associated with thinking about others’ thoughts.

When it comes to conveying complex subjects such as bullying and sexual abuse, it can be challenging to educate learners on prevention methods, especially in such a way that effectively communicates the severity and impact of such topics. Here, storytelling can prove to be a critical and effective tool. Using storytelling combined with educational technology in course development is relatively new but has been mastered in SafeSchools courses, which have been nationally recognized in Learning industry by the Brandon Hall Group Excellence Awards.

Such storytelling can improve online courses by increasing emotional engagement while also utilizing instructional theory best practices.

Think of it like this: It is infinitely easier to remember the gist of a story and its lessons than it is to commit a list of miscellaneous facts to memory.

How Does Storytelling Create Emotional Engagement?

Human beings are emotional. We trust a friend or a co-worker’s advice over a manual’s instruction. Emotions influence us, and we are inspired when we can relate and connect.

And in eLearning, knowing how to leverage emotion to foster engagement is powerful. Here are 8 ways stories make eLearning more engaging:

1. Emotional Connection

There is something ageless about stories, invoking the child inside each of us. So when stories are leveraged in your courses, emotional and intellectual connections are more easily made with learners. Further, when eLearning course content creates an emotional connection with its learners, it makes them trust the value of the content and, subsequently, make them want to learn more.

2. Curiosity

How many of us have been kept up way past our bedtime by a good book, show, or movie? We keep turning pages or keep our eyes glued to the screen because we must know what happens next. And when we weave an engaging story throughout our eLearning content, learners will be hooked. The brain of the learner engages with it and tries to figure out what's happening or predict the next move, igniting active learning.

3. Connection

People connect with other people through their stories, so eLearning storytelling must focus on characters, life situations and problems that mirror reality in some capacity. Giving real-life context that makes courses applicable to the learner builds familiarity and fosters an emotional connection, making the experience more memorable.

4. Persuasion

Cold, hard facts alone are often not enough to persuade or influence people. But stories—really good, compelling stories—can be a very powerful tool for persuasion as they keep people engaged, interested and—arguably most importantly—invested. Stories evoke emotions, and they’re more easily retained.

5. Context

In general, eLearners are application- and results-driven. So by mirroring their reality through storytelling, the story provides relevance, helping the learner understand the value in his or her own life - i.e. ‘What’s in it for me?’ Additionally, stories make it easier to learn complex and abstract concepts with anecdotes and analogies.

6. Recall

Again, we remember stories—the characters, the plot, the scenes, the adventure—from childhood. But it’s unlikely that we remember such details of things we studied in middle school. Why? Because according to research, 63% of people remembered facts better when presented within the context of a story, whereas only 5% remembered the information when presented in a traditional learning format.

7. Entertain

Stories engage multiple areas of the brain by hooking you and taking you in entirely; they allow us to get lost in our imaginations—and that’s a place few of us visit as adults. But in eLearning, stories allow us to become so enraptured by words and imagery while still enabling us to be fully aware and present so as to retain critical information and instructions.

8. Assimilate

Let’s face it: None of us were ever formally taught to make sense of a story. Why? Because innately and inherently, we just know the structure of a story. We know how to intuitively process information from a story and read or listen on. As such, teaching through stories is powerful because instead of trying to understand the manner in which the material is presented, the learner can instead concentrate on assimilating the material.

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to relate to your audience and facilitate a connection with the content, enhancing learning and memory recall. As such, leveraging the power of storytelling in eLearning can prove to be a highly effective tactic for engaging learners and increasing comprehension.