From cave paintings to tales round the campfire, from lyric poetry recited through the generations to the mass-produced novels of today, humans have always told stories: orally, in print, on film and now online. So why – if storytelling comes so naturally to us – wouldn’t we use it when designing elearning content?
Isn’t storytelling for children?
Something about the word “storytelling” evokes thoughts of childhood, not education or business. But incorporating stories into your content can make the difference between information transfer and real learning. It has the power to engage, to motivate, and to trigger changes in behavior and improvements in performance. Sounds more serious now, right?
If you’re interested in the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’, there are two things worth knowing:
- Emotions + information = memorable data. Take a look at the the affective context model described by Nick Shackleton-Jones; he does a great job of explaining why dramatic, out-of-the-ordinary, or emotionally intense situations stick in our minds.
- The difference between ‘pull’ and ‘push’ learning. When someone seeks out information at the moment they need it, they bring the affective context. This ‘pulled’ content doesn’t need to do much except be found, so can be more informal and simple. But when L&D produces ‘pushed’ (or just-in-case) content, we have to work harder to engage people; we have to provide the affective context.
What makes a good story?
- Yes, a story has a beginning, middle and end. But more significant is the journey and transformation (something discovered, understood, or changed as result of the journey) because this is what packs the emotional punch.
- Not everyone can be a master storyteller, and there’s an art to creating characters that people believe in, care about and recognize. Common mistakes to avoid are stereotypes, caricatures and weak or absent backstory and context.
- Taking the point of view of a single character can make the difference between a report and a story. It adds emotional depth, nuance and impact.
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling in particular is about combining those classic story elements with different media. Keep in mind the building blocks of a good story but don’t feel constrained by having to tick all the boxes of traditional storytelling – there’s great opportunity to experiment. This doesn’t have to mean lots of (expensive) bells and whistles.
Here are some examples of different media and approaches you could use.
- Graphics and images. Clever combinations of illustrations or photos with well-scripted dialogue (written or recorded) can work really well without costing the earth. Graphic novels or magazine photo stories are good sources of inspiration.
- Film. This is a great option for conveying a lot in a short time or tackling certain subjects, but generally speaking – to do it well – you need to spend a bit of money on professional scripting or interviewing and professional actors if filming drama.
- Interactive scenarios. Whether you’re using text and images or filmed drama, you can design the learner into the story. Give them control of the journey by letting them determine what happens and play through the consequences.
- Scrolling pages. This approach is unique to online or digital storytelling and it’s a technically simple way to make your story more immersive. You can be clever about how and where things appear whilst putting the user in charge of the pace. (There’s more about how parallax scrolling works and why it’s worth exploring, in this previous post.)
Elucidat makes any of these approaches simple to achieve. The Layout Designer allows you to do almost anything you might want to: setting audio alongside images, creating links between pages to build branching scenarios, and building beautiful scrolling pages are just a few examples. We’ve shouted about the wonders of Layout Designer in more detail in this previous post and there’s a more detailed look at how it all works, including video guides, here.
What does good digital storytelling look like in practice?
Here are some examples of online storytelling that are engaging, impactful and beautiful.
This short story, The Boat, is a masterclass in digital storytelling. The visuals, the audio, the sense of movement…it’s impossible not to become immersed in the story and you almost don’t realize it’s actually just a scrolling page.
Slavery Footprint is a more educational example of using scrolling to tell a story. I love the concise-but-clever language used, right from the heading: “How many slaves work for you?” It immediately makes this story your story. How could you scroll down through that first page and then not click through to the survey? A great use of storytelling to engage, motivate and drive the user to take the next desire action.
This example from Utility Warehouse (built in Elucidat) combines an interactive scenario with real employee voices. It asks the viewer to think about and feedback on the story as it unfolds, and bringing in views and opinions from peers or leaders makes that story directly relevant to the organization.
In fact, real people are amongst your most valuable resources! True stories and experiences as told by employees within your organization are the best foundation for achieving authenticity and engagement. You might simply use them as the basis for something scripted (whether written or filmed), or you could interview them on camera. But the possibilities are endless: this beautiful example from the New York Times shows how powerful a very simple combination of real voices, captivating stories and well-chosen photos can be.
As part of our expert team, Stephanie has created some fantastic Elucidat Masterclass topics. You might like the ones she’s created on The power of storytelling and Memory, learning and sticky content. We have a whole host of expert-created topics available, all packed with tips, in-depth guides and demos.
If you enjoyed this post, you might be particularly interested in When and why to go for the scroll and Using audio to help not hinder learning from another of our experts, Kirstie Greany.