Storytelling – Part 5

In my last post in this series on storytelling, I posed this question:

“Is it enough to understand the goal of storytelling, how to build a narrative, and what elements to include to make sure storytelling is effective in the context of training – or is there more to designing truly effective training using storytelling?”

To answer this question, I’m going to pose another question:


I personally don’t believe we can develop truly effective training unless we understand why we, as instructional designers, learning experience designers and learning content developers, spend countless hours developing workplace training, knowing full well that our audience will most likely be less than enthusiastic about taking the training. What’s the point?

So, after reading many, many articles on why employee training is so important, here’s my conclusion, which takes into account the research and looks at the bigger picture.

Within our complex, diversified working world, people are our most valuable asset
business success relies on people
smart organisations invest in developing their people
employee development shapes a more efficient, competitive and connected workforce
employees who feel connected work harder, stay longer and motivate others to do the same.

It’s that simple – or is it?


So, we’ve established that if we want to be successful in business, we need to connect with and develop our employees.

In general, the main goal of employee training is to influence our audience, and change their current attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and behaviour. The thing is, information alone rarely changes any of these.

In order to engage, influence and effect lasting change through training, it’s obvious we need to move on from ‘content dumps’ which simply pass on information. We need to reach our audience in ways that help them to understand, enable them to remember, and inspire them to act – this is where digital storytelling comes in.

If you want to improve employee morale, motivate and prepare your audience for thinking in an innovative way, digital storytelling can do all of these.

Stories not only create a sense of connection between people and ideas, they convey the unique culture, history and values of a community or organisation that unite people and build familiarity and trust.

So yes, there is much more to designing truly effective training than understanding the goal of storytelling. But if your goal is to engage your audience, bring them along for the journey and influence them to adopt your vision, a good story will go a long way to painting a picture of what’s possible, helping them believe in possibility, and inspiring them to take action.

I’m going to leave you to ponder this topic, which I believe deserves a fair amount of pondering! If you have any thought or opinions, I’d love to hear them!

In my next post in this series I’m going to look at mapping a story in the context of the digital storytelling process.

Storytelling – Part 4

The goal of stories is to connect with an audience emotionally in order to entertain, build personal relationships, illustrate a point, relay information, or move someone to action.

Rance Greene

In my previous post in this series on storytelling, I attempted to simplify the process of writing a story that could potentially be powerful in the context of training by looking at the structure of a story. As I was looking further into this, I started to think about novels or movies that don’t seem to flow and it makes sense to me that this may be because they didn’t get the story structure quite right.


How you build a narrative and what you include will determine how effective your story will be at accomplishing its goal. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there about the difference between plot, structure and story. Basically, from what I can determine:

  • Plot is what happens
  • Structure is the strategic sequence
  • Story combines plot and structure with artistry and is how you influence your audience’s experience

At its most basic level, a story is a transformation of a situation or a character unveiled. The beginning, middle and end of a story that I talked about in my previous post in this series can be further defined as being an origination, an escalation of conflict, and a resolution.

The beginning – the emotionally engaging originating event
The middle – the natural and causally related consequence
The end – the inevitable conclusive event

But is there more to designing truly effective training using storytelling?

Is it enough to understand the goal of storytelling, how to build a narrative, and what elements to include to make sure storytelling is effective in the context of training – or is there more to designing truly effective training using storytelling?

I’m going to leave you with that question for the time being, and digress slightly to cover briefly the different types of storytelling.

Oral Storytelling

Telling a story through voice and gestures is one of the oldest forms of storytelling. It’s a way for real people to tell stories from their own lives. In the context of learning, oral storytelling continues to flourish worldwide as a powerful pedagogical tool that enhances recall, retention, application of concepts into new situations, understanding and learner enthusiasm for the subject matter.

Visual Storytelling

From ancient cave drawings to the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, visual storytelling has evolved through modern mediums that offer powerful ways for storytellers to communicate.

Written Storytelling

Originating thousands of years ago, writing changed the course of storytelling and has become indispensable within modern society.

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling combines the art of storytelling with digital technology and is the most recent and fast-evolving form of storytelling. It has the ability to more fully enrich the experience of informing, enlightening and entertaining using multimedia tools to help an audience connect to a narrative emotionally, which makes digital stories ideal for training purposes.

With the increase in digital story creation and sharing using modern technology, there seems to be some confusion around what digital storytelling is, or more precisely, is not. In this context, I recently came across this list, written by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano which I found to be very enlightening:

Digital storytelling:

  • is NOT about the tools… but IS about the skills…
  • is NOT about creating media, but IS about creating meaning…
  • is NOT only about telling a story, but IS about contributing and collaborating with others…
  • is NOT about telling an isolated story… but IS about sharing and connecting experiences and perspectives to a community…
  • is NOT only about the transfer of knowledge… but IS about the amplification of our voices…
  • is NOT about substituting analogue stories… but IS about transforming stories…
  • is NOT just a story told, created or published on a digital platform.

I’ve always believed that we should be developing digital content ‘worthy of engagement’. In my quest to develop engaging learning experiences for an audience, this list of Silvia’s really resonated with me and will be a useful reference as I continue to explore why we should be using digital storytelling for training.

In my next post in this series, I’m going to look at why employee training is so important, and how I believe we can use digital storytelling to truly engage, influence and inspire an audience.

Storytelling – Part 3

In my previous posts in this series, I covered my interest in using storytelling for training, briefly explored what storytelling actually is, and presented my list of guidelines for what I believe a great story must have.

In this post, I’m going to further explore the power of storytelling and attempt to simplify my process of writing a story that will be powerful in the context of training.


A story by definition is a narration of a series of events told with a specific purpose in mind.

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 tells the truth about how long it can take to get a story right.

Stories should have a structure, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Beginning – where we start
The Middle – where we travel through
The End – where we stop

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 look at effectively communicating through story. I’m also going to introduce the concept of digital storytelling and why I think should be using this for training.

Storytelling – Part 2

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 training.

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 training.

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 storytelling for training isn’t 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.

I actually subscribe more to Andrew Stanton’s theory that ‘Storytelling has guidelines, not fixed rules’, so here are my guidelines.


A clear structure

What do you want your audience 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 a 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 learners, 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 – and 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 audience 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.

An emotional component – make me care

Why should I care?

Storytelling gives us the power to evoke strong emotions. Our brains react to character-driven stories with empathy, sympathy, compassion, care and connection. As your audience begins 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.

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.

Simplicity and focus

Great stories are kept simple and told in a language that the learner understands.

You want your audience 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 as I believe they may apply to storytelling for training.

In my next post I’m going to further explore the power of storytelling for training, and attempt to simplify the process of writing a story that will be potentially powerful in this context.

Storytelling – Part 1

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.


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…


Storytelling is defined as the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.

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.

The neuroscience behind storytelling is real – in fact, our brain loves good storytelling! The explanation in the video below sums this up in less than 1 minute!


The format of a story has a profound impact on our learning because of the connection of cause and effect. Storytelling separates the remembered from the forgotten.

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 for training? 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 training?

Click on the image to view the interactive version.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Do You Have an Instructional Design Portfolio?

In a recent guest blog post I wrote for Brian Batt, eLearning Freak, I explain why you need an instructional design portfolio and how to develop one.

Check out this fantastic WordPress plugin Brian has developed that every instructional designer or eLearning developer should know about.

The Power of Empathy

Brene Brown would have to be one of my all-time favourite TED talk speakers.  Her TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” inspired me to purchase her book of the same name, alongside her other best selling book, “Daring Greatly” – I find her messages  very powerful.

This animated RSA short is not only visually engaging, but sends a profound message about how there can be no empathy without vulnerability.

Introverts and leadership

I loved the enthusiastic approach of the voice-over person in this video I came across on YouTube.  I found this very engaging, although if the video had been longer than the 5 minutes it is, this may have become a little annoying.

From a design perspective, I thought the dynamic content and mixture of visuals and text was well-balanced and the message effectively delivered.

If you are at all interested in personality types and strategies to work more effectively with others, you may well relate to this video as I did!

Digital Storytelling

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.

What’s happening in e-Learning?

Where do you go to find out what’s happening in e-Learning? Do you rely on randomly coming across relevant web sites or blogs, or social media sites – Twitter, LinkedIn groups?

There are a couple of web site that I’ve been aware of – e-Learning Tags (a social bookmarking site for e-Learning professionals) and e-Learning Feeds (which ranks and scores hundreds of e-Learning blogs). Then I came across this source – The Learning Rush which offers “real time news for the training community” and covers categories including m-Learning, e-Learning, Gamification and Instructional Design. It’s well worth a visit to this site, which also has an “influencer network” of industry experts.

Of course, the place to go if you like to be part of an amazing community and use or want to know how to use Articulate, is the E-Learning Heroes website. There is a wealth of information here and the forums are a fantastic place to get answers and help others out. There are also free resources on this site and some great e-Learning examples. I regularly visit this website for e-Learning tips. There are some amazingly talented and dedicated contributors and this website is a must for anyone who uses Articulate.