In my previous posts in this series, I covered my interest in using storytelling and more specifically digital storytelling for learning, briefly explored what storytelling actually is and presented my list of guidelines for what a great story must have.
In this post, I’m going to further explore the power of digital storytelling for learning and attempt to simplify the process of writing a story that will be powerful in this context.
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.
An old Native American proverb
As I continue to look more deeply into storytelling, I’m starting to realise how involved this process can actually be. In this Introduction to Storytelling, Pixar, arguably one of the greatest storytellers of our generation, tells the truth about how long it can take to get a story right.
building a story
Stories should have a structure, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
If we expand on the outline structure of the Story Spine to include the core elements of a story, it looks something like this.
This is much easier to understand if it’s put in context with examples as in this Essence of Structure video.
In my next post in this series I’m going to combine this expanded outline with my guidelines on what a great story must have and continue to attempt to simplify the process of writing a story that will be potentially powerful in the context of digital storytelling for learning.
In my first post in this series, I briefly explored the neuroscience behind storytelling and shared why I think we should be using storytelling for learning.
In this second post, I continue to explore exactly what storytelling is and share my guidelines around what a great story must have, as I believe these may apply to storytelling for learning, or more specifically digital storytelling for learning.
If you’re interested in knowing more about storytelling, this TED talk by Andrew Stanton (the creator behind the Toy Story, Finding Nemo and WALL-E) is a great place to start. Andrew talks about what we should and can do to tell great stories. He also talks about what he believes is the greatest story commandment, which is ‘Make me care’ – that is, how we can use emotion as the primary motivator to get someone to care enough about our message to take action.
In reality, my goal with using digital storytelling for learning is not to write scripts equal to those of award winning movies, so even though Pixar, arguably one of the greatest storytellers of our generation, subscribes to a set of 22 rules for storytelling, I’m thinking this may be a bit comprehensive for my purposes.
In introducing his adaptation of Pixar’s rules, Brian Greg Peters shares with us his view that even though storytelling is something we all do naturally, there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling. So consequently I do believe we need some rules here we can follow, but I actually subscribe more to Andrew Stanton’s theory that ‘Storytelling has guidelines, not fixed rules’, so here are my guidelines.
A GREAT STORY MUST HAVE…
A CLEAR STRUCTURE
What do you want your learners to know, and when?
The answer to this question is the structure of the story. Pixar uses a series of sentence fragments, referred to as the Story Spine, to prompt the narrative of their stories – and this is not a bad place to start.
Once upon a time… Every day… Until one day… And because of that… And because of that… And because of that… Until finally… And ever since then… And the moral of the story is…
…AND PURPOSE FOR GREATER IMPACT
Why does the story need to exist?
This talks to the greater purpose telling the story serves and is at the heart of great storytelling. In the context of learning, this refers to the training need.
Why is the purpose important?
If your story serves a real purpose, it will have a greater impact. Ask yourself, is this really a training issue, or can this be addressed in another way.
A THEME – A CENTRAL IDEA
What is the central idea of the story?
The theme is the underlying principle or concept, the driving force that guides your decisions on what to include in the story, the truth that underscores the plot and characters. Themes are very often universal in nature and should include principles and truths that your learners will recognise.
A BELIEVABLE AND MEMORABLE PROTAGONIST
Whose fate matters most to the story?
The protagonist is the character whose fate matters most to the story. They are passionate about wanting something and are willing to choose to go through conflict to get it, including deciding to sacrifice their own comfort, safety, stability and peace.
The protagonist is the vehicle through which you achieve your primary learning objectives, so they need to be someone your learners connect with and whose journey they care about the most – and they need to be believable and memorable.
As your learners begin to see themselves in the story and identify with the characters on an emotional level, they will start to care about the characters, and feel motivated and compelled to learn more. In the context of learning, this is powerful – once your learners have connected with the story emotionally, they will be more motivated toward the learning goal, and inspired to take action.
CONFLICT AND DRAMA – SOMETHING CRUCIAL AT STAKE
What is the primary problem that the characters are facing?
Without something crucial at stake, your learners can’t learn anything and won’t be interested or engaged in the story. Conflict brings stories to life by showing us who the characters really are through how they deal with the challenges they’re presented with.
Why is drama important?
Drama creates a safe atmosphere for individual expression of thoughts and feelings. It builds confidence, and plays a significant role in how individuals deal with real life issues and concerns. Genuine drama comes from unavoidable, escalating internal conflict – and without this, there will be no problem, no consequence, no story.
You want your learners to be invested in the story – so include creative, well-developed storytelling elements. By choosing brevity over complexity, your story will be more easily interpreted and more memorable.
So, that’s my list of guidelines or ‘must haves’ as I believe they may apply to digital storytelling for learning.
In my next post I’m going to further explore the power of digital storytelling for learning and attempt to simplify the process of writing a story that will be potentially powerful in this context.
Someone asked me recently where I seek inspiration for my e-Learning designs from. My answer was ‘everywhere’. It’s true! With my ‘Design Ideas’ and ‘WIP’ folders on my hard drive chocked full of stuff I can’t wait to get to, I often wish there were more hours in the day for me to see this inspiration through to design fruition.
WHERE AM I GOING WITH THIS POST?
Ultimately, I want to keep moving forward with my skills and continue challenging myself to design more awesome stuff than I ever have before – after all, my tagline is “Making e-Learning a better experience”!
So, when I start a design and think about what compelling visuals I’m going to use, I invariably think about how the visuals will tell a story…
Stories make people care. They excite and energise. They comfort and bond. They spread optimism and goodwill and take the audience unexpected places.
People are moved by emotion and stories help connect the audience to the narrative emotionally.
In the context of learning, we absorb stories more readily than facts and figures. Listening to stories helps learners stimulate critical thinking skills, capture complexities of situations and reshape knowledge into something meaningful.
So why would you not want to try and use storytelling in learning – and more specifically in e-Learning? I can’t think of any good reasons why not – and lots of reasons why we should.
Have you had any experience with e-Learning design using storytelling? Or have you found an awesome e-Learning project that is designed around storytelling that you would recommend?
Broken Co-Worker is probably one of the most famous ones in the e-Learning industry – developed by Anna Sabramowicz and Ryan Martin around 10 years ago. Do you think this is more engaging than the standard click next type content-dump e-Learning?
Whilst looking for information and examples of digital storytelling, I came across this compellingly descriptive story told by a boy who struggled with learning difficulties.
I found this short digital story truly inspirational. The words he uses to tell his story really paint a vivid picture of his experience. He talks about “wanting to be smart like the other students in class”. I found myself totally engaged by his tone of voice and the way he described how he recognised that he was making progress, and the appropriately simple visuals add to the overall effect.