Why stories are so important for learning, why we shouldn’t be scared of longer-form content, and why you don’t need to be J.K. Rowling to create some magic. In this #DesignersCut video, Kirstie Greany goes behind the scenes of our showcase example to offer up tips and storytelling techniques to help you turn a true tale into an engaging user experience.
Our storytelling showcase example shows how interactive and engaging stories don’t need to feature Oscar-worthy videos or be a branching scenario to draw people in. Instead, you can use low cost sound clips, scrolling pages, humor or emotion and a splash of subtle interaction to engage users at the start of a learning campaign. This example goes for depth and reflection over shallow, quick-hit content.
Why storytelling is a great strategy for elearning
Stories are part of what makes us human, and we have told and retold stories – forever! They have the ability to hook us in, connect with us emotionally, inspire us and be remembered. They are ultimately personal – in that they come from someone and are personalized. What you like, feel or take away from a story will be different than the next person.
That’s exactly what you want for learning: an experience that sticks in someone’s mind and connects with them and their experiences in a personal way, and yet they can share it and spread it socially. A double winner.
Whether used for the start of a learning campaign, the meat at the center of your development program or a standalone resource, stories have the power to help drive change and, at the very least, discussion. And that can only be a good thing!
For more on why your brain likes stories, check out this interview with Learning Psychologist Stella Collins.
5 storytelling tips and ideas for engaging learning
Storytelling tip 1: Try using audio clips to create an atmosphere
Each page in our example is loaded with a short audio clip that triggers when users land on it – be it the sound of a crowd, a train or snoring. These soundscape clips help immerse users in the story and give them a sense of place. Each one plays for about 10 seconds, not enough to get annoying. This digital storytelling technique is a great, simple and cost-effective way to add a burst of life and atmosphere to your content. It’s probably the only time we’d suggest using forced audio that users can’t control!
On the first page, we also trigger a short looping video clip of the crowd jumping up and down to add that extra slice of life to the content.
Storytelling tip 2. Don’t be afraid to go long
Amidst the drive for content to be shorter and snappier than ever, we can sometimes forget that some learning requires a deeper level of focus and reflection. Rather than creating shallow snippets of a story as a vehicle for a case study “quiz,” we wanted to show an example of longer form content being used to engage users more deeply and giving them a chance to reflect more at the end.
Now, obviously, our story is about a journey with a soft ethical dilemma threaded through. But yours could be a heavier workplace dilemma or event that really needs attention and consideration, before asking someone to reflect or answer a question…if that’s what you decide to do.
Storytelling tip 3. Use subtle, meaningful interactions…or even none at all
Interactions, used sparingly and subtly, often have more power than throwing a million clicks and drags at people. In the flow of our story, we have two gentle decision questions that ask users what they would do if they were in the same boat.
These don’t drive the direction of the story, unlike our other branching storytelling examples.
Instead, readers get a bit of feedback about their choice, and they then return to the story. You may decide not to have any interactions at all, which would also work.
On the final page, the reader is asked some rhetorical reflection questions. We play back how they answered the decision-based questions to help them with this. But no judgment is made, even though we could use Rules and Branching to take users to a “teaching moment.” The goal here isn’t to “teach,” but to invoke reflection and interest.
Storytelling tip 4. Experiment with layouts and fonts
We’ve used Elucidat’s Layout Designer to create a series of scrolling pages. Intertwining full width images with single and two-column layouts helps lead the eye down through the story, mimicking a kind of editorial or magazine article.
We’ve also used a variety of fonts and font sizes to add visual interest and draw attention to the key elements as users scroll. Use your fonts consistently and with purpose.
Storytelling tip 5. Tell the truth (unless you tell fiction really well)
Unless you can tune into your inner J.K. Rowling and create a marvellous piece of fiction, you might find it easier to write about something true. You could ask others, such as an in-house expert, to write a story or record them talking about it, then turn it into something worthy of publication if it needs a helping hand. Or, pull together lots of snippets from people’s real workplace stories into a piece of fiction that’s realistic.
Using the techniques above, you’ll be able to give your story some added pizzazz that’ll make it a worthy read. You can also check out the examples of interactive documentary at the end of this blog, which show how personal stories can really shine.
Other ideas for storytelling in elearning
At the beginning…of a learning campaign
Our storytelling example is a great way to start a learning campaign. Use stories to entice people in and add intrigue. If your story isn’t overtly advertised as “learning,” users may now be primed to take their experience further and use some more formal learning resources. Track where they go next, then dangle the next suggested pieces of content before them.
Use a range of media options
We’ve used a text-based approach with imagery and music, but you could create an audio story, video story, a slideshow with voiceover, a fully fledged animation like the one used in the Finding the Truth example or just really well-written words and nothing else.
We’ve written about a journey, and it’s actually true. But you could look to produce stories about job interview nightmares, moments that made managers wake up to getting a work/life balance, a workplace incident, an ethical dilemma and so much more.
Relevancy and performance improvement matter, but so do excitement and engagement. Don’t kill your story by making it overly “factual” and obviously for “learning.” Go for the long game and think of your story or stories as a memorable and motivating launch pad toward your end goal. Here’s a great example of immersive storytelling.
3 amazing examples of digital storytelling and documentary that inspire us
- Rebuilding Haiti by Rue89 – threads stories, factual content and interactive decision-making questions into a cohesive and in-depth story of how the people of Haiti rebuilt their lives
- World War One by the Guardian – uses mesmerizing soundscapes, interactive maps, archive video footage and the voices of ten historians to tell the story of the war
- Immigrant Nation by iNation – a social, collaborative project where users can add their own immigration story, which is archived among an exploratory archive of others’ personal tales