Storytelling: Buzzword or Back to Basics?

Storytelling seems like the shiny new way to learn, but it’s actually an ancient means of making sense of the world.

Stories are fantastic tools for learning. Narrative-style learning is a form of constructivism, in which we are participants–not receptacles for information. Adults don’t normally show up in a learning environment with empty sponges for brains. We naturally learn by attaching our own meaning to an event or to new information. We have many layers of experience to draw from, and narrative learning ignites that inherent tendency we all have to play an active role in learning something new.

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Storytelling can:

  • Immediately capture the learner’s attention.
  • Establish the tone or mood.
  • Build trust and rapport with the learners.
  • Help learners make connections between what they already know and he new information they’re discovering.
  • Help learners retain key information.
  • Give authentic context to content.

When created with care and relevancy, storytelling is an indispensable tool for engaging learners. A few guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Authenticity rules.
  • Respect the learner at all times.
  • Take the time to research what learners need and what they already might know.
  • Study the lingo and terms the learners use, and emulate it (but don’t mock it!)
  • To truly involve learners, avoid creating a rigid path. (If creating online learning, don’t lock the navigation.)
  • Create an appropriate quest that represents a real milestone for participants.
  • Make sure every character plays a meaningful role in the narrative. Extra people = fluff.

Stories are not limited to learning environments. Storytelling is everywhere these days. Writers are taking over gaming. (Check out the amazing Gone Home game for an example of the power narrative can play in online games.) Stories are being used in sales to emotionally connect with customers. While stories have always been used in museum learning, stories are now useful fundraising tools that help make programs more engaging for patrons. Storytelling is a persuasive tool to entice people to click online ads. It’s even a valuable leadership strategy for CEOs of the world’s most influential businesses.

 

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