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Happy National Storytelling Week 2014

This post was written by Kayleigh Tanner and first appeared on the Epic blog on 7th February 2014.
two professionals talk about storytellingOnce upon a time, Epic decided to mark the end of National Storytelling Week with a post to celebrate the world of tales, fables, myths and anecdotes. We’re going to revisit our storytelling white paper, ‘Good stories: great learning, exceptional e-learning’, to think about why good stories are integral to a great learning experience.

They’re engaging

There were people camping outside bookshops before the release of each new Harry Potter book for a reason. When we enjoy a story, it is very easy to get hooked. We automatically start to solve problems on behalf of the characters, making us much more susceptible to learning from their behaviours. If a doctor encounters a story involving a patient having a heart attack in their e-learning course, they will start to think about how they would treat them, which in turn will make them more receptive to the actual solution.

They’re memorable

I will always remember my school woodwork teacher telling us to tie our hair back when we used the circular sander, lest we suffer the same unfortunate fate as the girl who had (apparently) been pulled into the machine by her ringlets. Characters in stories create empathy and make the key features easier to remember, helping us retain the teaching more effectively.

They aid sense-making

While a list of imperatives (‘Do this, don’t do that, put that there’) might leave us cold, a story can help us make sense of why this should be the case. Telling a story about a worker who diced with death after messing around with equipment can help workers make sense of their compliance training. It is similar to the way we use analogies to help explain complicated concepts to others, such as explaining division to children as ‘cutting a cake into pieces’ to contextualise this abstract concept.

They’re enhanced through sharing

When we retell a story, it gives us a chance to synthesise our knowledge and clarify our understanding to ourselves. It also allows us to see other perspectives as others pick up on different things to our own interpretation, helping us develop a richer understanding. Stories provide a safe environment in which new concepts can be explored. Often, when we want to gather opinions from friends on controversial topics, we will embed that topic in a story, e.g. ‘I have a friend who is trying to decide between jobs…’

They offer a balance between what is told and what is implied

Learning is about striking a balance between what the learner knows and what they need to know. Too much of the former and it’ll be boring and irrelevant, too much of the latter and it’ll be too difficult and won’t help you establish the level of the learner’s ground knowledge. Good stories, and good learning, make reasonable assumptions about what the audience already knows and what they will find out later.

To find out more about creating great content with your storytelling, check out our Knowledge Base, or take a look at our expertise on our website to explore the ways we can build stories into your e-learning. Imogen Casebourne and Lars Hyland also addressed the importance of good storytelling in their Learning Technologies seminar last week:

And we’ll all live happily ever after…