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How to Harness the Power of Storytelling in Your Learning Videos

Great storytelling is an important part of creating an engaging learning video. This blog post from LEO’s Executive Producer, Frank McCabe, is based on our recent ebook Learning Videos: From Commission to Creation’, and will help you understand the principles of storytelling as well as how to adapt them for your video learning content.

When it comes to inspiring people to embrace a new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools, it’s the only thing that works.

We believe that the above quote, from Professor Boyd, is totally accurate. So whether you’re thinking of creating your own visual materials or plan on hiring a professional learning company to help, it’s imperative that you have a handle on some of the basics of storytelling.

Without an effective story—this applies to documentary as well as drama videos—a learning video will flounder. Viewers won’t engage. Clarity will be lost. And the all-important human behaviors could easily feel disjointed and unmotivated.

There’s an enormous global industry around structuring stories for the screen—thousands of seminars, courses, and books are available. While story structure can be framed and described in numerous ways, the standard story form usually boils down to a simple sequence of events.

Related reading: ‘6 Types of Video Drama to Use in eLearning

What Is Story Structure?

An illustration showing Freitag's Pyramid - a five stage story structure model

This diagram is a simple rendering of the “shape” of most conventional stories. It’s derived from the work of Joseph Campbell, a famed American Literature professor whose work has been adopted by filmmakers the world over.

The shape of this narrative basically follows a journey—from uneventful, through to very eventful, peaking with a climactic event, and ending with some sort of resolution. While there are thousands of films that don’t work in this way, it’s surprising just how many do.

More from the blog: ‘4 Ways to Tell Video Stories During Lockdown

How Do I Structure Story Specifically For Learning?

The classical model works well for longer-form narratives like film or TV, but it’s a little over-engineered for a learning video. We would tend to focus on five elements of this larger structural diagram:

  • Exposition
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Resolution

Exposition is the information an audience needs to get the most out of a scene or story.

The inciting incident is an event, thought, or circumstance that forces the main character into a decisive course of action in order to achieve a specific goal. It’s often characterized by a situation becoming more difficult for them than they’d anticipated.

Rising action shows the character we’re following (our protagonist) grappling with the central problem or obstacle. Things can get easier at times and more difficult at others.

The climax, in pure story terms, is the achievement of that goal. However, in eLearning, this can often be a decision-point question.

The resolution is the end-point of the story—what the situation is after the goal has been achieved. In blockbuster movies, this is often a very short phase of the overall narrative. It could look like one of these: 

  • The hero gets the girl and they drive off into the sunset.
  • The town is saved and the hero/heroine is lauded.
  • The loner strolls out of town, leaving everyone a bit wiser.

However, in eLearning, the story’s resolution takes on a far greater significance. It’s often a section of the story that shows the good consequences or benefits of behaving in a certain way, and should therefore be given the weight it deserves.

You might also like: ‘13 Tips for Filming Videos From Home

How Are the 5 Story Phases Applied to a Workplace Drama?

A diagram showing the filming process that coincides with the 5 stages of story

As you can see, it’s not necessary to film every aspect of the story structure here. Certain elements can be done just as effectively as eLearning screens (exposition and resolution) or as a challenge to the learner (climax). Think about what needs to be filmed within your story, and how other media such as photography or question-setting could augment it.

Handpicked for you: ‘How to Plan for the 3 Phases of a Virtual Learning Video Project

This article features content from our recent ebook ‘Learning Videos: From Commission to Creation’. Download your copy to explore the opportunities, role, and production of video content in eLearning.

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