With learner engagement data at our fingertips, there’s no kidding ourselves that adding a few clicks to dry elearning content keeps learners interested. Instead, learners stick around when content is compelling. Immersive storytelling is a powerful way to hook your learners in.
Weaving your learning points into emotive stories is one way of holding your audience’s attention. A brilliant example of this is The Open University’s “A Support Net”. This was developed in collaboration with Tilt and Elucidat, and used a collection of immersive video stories to drive home learnings on how best to support people who are struggling with personal challenges.
A Support Net was fortunate to have enough of a budget to make the most of Tilt’s creative filmmaking, but don’t think that access to a film crew is necessary to create an effective story. The principles that underpin this branching video can be applied regardless of whether you’re penning an emotive scenario, recording some moving audio or going the whole way with a film crew.
4 tips for embedding immersive storytelling in your elearning.
#1. Uncover the human side
Your first challenge is to find the human side of your content. A Support Net could easily have been a list of tips and techniques for how to connect with people who are struggling, but we went further. We focused on the people impacted by those techniques, and connected the audience with them.
So, dig deep into your topic to find the people at the heart of it all, and connect with their emotion. Whether it’s the story of an overstretched parent whose relationship with his children improved when he made some changes to his day (time management training), or the trials of a young manager who felt overlooked and shut down by her superiors (diversity and inclusion training), people and their experiences will make your content compelling.
#2. Show, don’t tell
When you’ve uncovered the emotion, let it take centerstage in your story, and trust your learners to work out what’s going on. Compare the following:
A: Clara is halfway through making a point in a meeting when her manager interrupts her and talks over her for the second time. She feels disrespected and embarrassed, as if her opinion doesn’t matter.
B: “But it all comes back to what the data from Q3 shows…” As Shaurice’s voice rang out across the meeting room again, Clara sat back in her seat. Her cheeks burned as the rest of her sentence died in her mouth. She caught Matt’s eye across the table, who shrugged at her sympathetically. Great. Now her colleagues were pitying her.
Which example makes you want to find out more?
Chances are, it’s B. Rather than simply telling the reader what happens (as A does), B shows them a scene and trusts them to draw their own conclusions from it. To create your own story in the style of option B, write dialogue rather than learning points, focus on feelings, and describe senses rather than stating facts.
When you watch the films in A Support Net, keep an eye out for this storytelling technique. You’ll notice, for example, that it’s never explicitly said that Lily is playing truant – but the watcher can work it out very early on from the strategic visual clues.
#3. Involve learners in the story
Participation is one of the strongest signs of engagement, and it’s one you can leverage by inviting your learners to play a role in your story.
From a learning perspective, your aim is to get learners to make a choice so you can show them a consequence they can draw meaning from. But from the user’s perspective, all options need to feel like realistic choices that don’t interrupt the flow of the story.
#4. Show multiple perspectives
Our natural curiosity doesn’t just apply to characters in our stories. Often, we’re intrigued by how our opinion differs from our peers, an expert, or “what really happened.” By working these perspectives into your story – or sharing them in a conclusion at the end like A Support Net does – you create a multi-layered learning experience. Your audience will draw their own conclusions, and learn from others as well.
Could immersive storytelling work for your next elearning project?
Love the idea of immersive stories, but struggling to see how they’ll work with your content? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Bring health and safety training to life with dramatic (but possible) tales of close calls. By helping people imagine being in a life or death situation, you’re likely to provoke a preventative change in behavior.
- Make your ethics or Code of Conduct training compelling by anonymising real situations that have happened at work and telling the stories. There’s nothing like “based on a true story” to make people sit up and pay attention.
- Make people care about your financial policies by telling small-scale stories of how your “average Joe or Josephine” is affected by the issues. For example, people take Data Security more seriously if you can make them imagine the stomach-sinking realization that their personal credit card information has been stolen and used by a fraudster.
Elucidat’s Professional Services team has written many an immersive story in their time, and would be happy to help you turn your next elearning project into a masterpiece. If you’d like some support, just get in touch.
- Get some more tips on writing stories for digital learning
- Use our free Capture template to analyze your audience and decide if stories will work for them
- 5 tips for storytelling in elearning (video & example)