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Revisiting stories for learning

From the plays of Shakespeare to the modern day speeches of President Obama, stories have been used to communicate key messages which audiences not only remember but also pass on to others. That’s what makes stories such powerful tools for learning.

Woman telling a story

Neuroscientists tell us that stories help us make links between stories and our existing experiences. This means that when presented with a new problem we intuitively search for a story that can help us make sense of it. On the other hand, retaining information without a narrative can be dependent on repeated rehearsals. Information stored in this way is quickly replaced and often forgotten.

So how can instructional designers harness the power of stories?

For instructional designers, there’s much that can be learnt from storytelling. Here’s just three approaches we’ve taken at LEO Learning.

Artefacts in the form of graphics, offer ‘visual hooks’ which help learners make sense of a story and remember it. An example is the story of Chianti – a pop star intent on adopting a child from an African orphanage – incorporated into some compliance e-learning on editorial policy for the BBC. Instead of offering dry information on privacy rights and contract law, this guidance was embedded into interactive artefacts such as a contract with Chianti’s agent, for which the learner had to choose the most appropriate clauses.

Animations, videos and photo filmstrips become visual narratives that have the same convincing storytelling effects as a soap opera or film. Characters encourage sympathy and empathy from the learner who actively seeks similarities between their situation and those described in the story. This was seen in a recent course for VW. Learners loved the use of characters, who helped them to engage in the problem of poor customer service.

Papermations are brief videos that use paper cut-outs, moved around by hand and accompanied by a voiceover, to tell a story. In a recent course for QVC, a papermation was used effectively to bring a rather mundane subject to life. Learners followed “Jeff” as he got to grips with a new printing system. The carefully scripted language and movement of the cut-outs gave the papermation a simplistic appeal. This helped explain the complex system to the learner.


Whatever the subject matter, there’s always a story or stories that can assist with learning. When combined with the various digital assets that LEO Learning can help you create, this approach makes for a powerful combination: one that will surely enable storytelling, learning and technology to live together happily ever after!

For a deeper look at this topic, download our free LEO Learning insight “How storytelling can help organisations to learn and change” by Director of Learning, Imogen Casebourne:

Download it here