Storytelling provides magic training moments

How a person applies what they havelearnedis probably the best indicator of effective learning. There are various ways of presenting information but there’s one that’s been used since time immemorial that is often overlooked – storytelling.

Storytelling is the oldest form of propagating information. It is older than any piece ofliterature and may be older than the development of spoken language, given that stories can be told through gestures. Over the centuries, storieshave proved to be effective vehicles for implementing learning.

Stories entertain, inform and pass on values and beliefs to the next generation. Throughout history, the world’s most effective and memorable teachers, including Socrates and Jesus, have couched much of their teaching in terms of stories. They knew that stories facilitate anaudience’s appreciation of inaccessible concepts by lowering their resistance to new ideas. Stories can make the tedious memorable, make abstract notions concrete, and unravel complex ideas.

Fashions in storytelling and the media by which they are transmitted evolve. Today, one of the most popular storytelling methods is via film-where the impact of computer-generated effects is playing an increasingly important part in the whole ‘learning’ experience.

Stories, such as those told by Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka and Stephen King, present us withemotions that we may never experience on our own. Their stories uncover new dimensions of horror, exploring emotions ranging from the cruel to the uncomfortable. Do writers of horror ‘teach’ us how to bescared? Do their stories tap into our innate fears or do they mould them? Whatever the mechanism, the stories cultivate fear, suggesting that we can use similar elements to teach or evoke behavioural responses from learners.

We can use true stories to inspire and motivate learners biographies to teach leadership skills to managers fables to articulate concepts and science fiction to introduce systems training.

Story-based learning works best when you teach principles and concepts that are:

  • Abstract (soft skills such as leadership)

  • Colourless or uninspiring (compliance-related regulations and codes of conduct)

  • Difficult to appreciate (such as finance for non-financial managers).

Successful stories must also be:

  • Contextual -to convey emotions,trigger memories and provide insights thataid the learning process

  • Realistic-to be credible

  • Unusual -to be memorable

  • Natural – so they gain learner acceptance

  • Concrete -dealing with specific people, things and events, to which learners can relate

  • Human -ensuring learner empathy

  • Easily accepted -scepticism is usually suspended to accept a story. Curiosity and readiness to be entertained aids acceptability and retention of underlying learning points

  • Discovery-oriented -people like to learn when they discover the learning for themselves.

So, next time you’re preparing a course or advising on content and delivery, remember that a little storytelling goes a long way.


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