<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1373947175984693&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Learning & Development Blog

storytelling in training

Learner Retention and the Importance of Storytelling In Training

Let's face it... ERP training is typically boring at best and utterly overwhelming at worst. The systems are complicated, users have to learn new terminology, new codes and numbers for products, vendors, accounts and everything in between. And then there are the new procedures. Many, many new procedures.

I've seen week-long SAP training courses covering over 100 procedures for people who plan and scheduled production in a manufacturing plant. Really? That's a lot to ask people to remember...and I seriously doubt they do much of the time. (In defense of the nameless, travel was necessarily a huge factor in the case of the week-long class. You have to work with what you've got.)

Improving ERP Training

So what can we do to help more of the important points stick? We've tried the review games and the quizzes and the endless exercises, and those things all help to some extent. Ultimately though, those things tend to just blend into the rest of the course in our memories. What's needed is a hook that will hold the learner's attention long enough to move the memory into long term storage. One way to do this? Tell a good story.


Connie Malamed, The eLearning Coach, wrote a great post Why You Need to Use Storytelling for Learning on this subject with 10 reasons why storytelling works as a learning tool. Her 10th reason sticks out in my mind, "Stories give meaning to data," for how well it applies to ERP training.

Even a simple ERP system contains more master and transactional data than most people can fathom. The trick is to learn how to locate and interact with "your" data effectively. And, to understand how the choices made while creating important documents like, say, contracts can have far reaching consequences. I feel a story coming on...

A few years ago, I worked on a project for major university that was implementing PeopleSoft Financials. I was tasked with writing training manuals, designing eLearning modules, and designing classroom exercises and activities for the areas of purchasing and travel & expenses. Then, I actually ended up teaching the courses I had designed to hundreds of users over a period of 8 weeks.

This was a huge change for these folks. And the content was boring. The person in charge did not believe in incorporating anything fun into training that might help people remember important stuff. It really fell to us as instructors to help people understand what they would need to watch out for back at their desk.


When teaching the users about creating purchasing contracts, one of the very important points to remember was that you have the create the right kind of contract...was it a quantity-based contract, a time-based contract, or a quantity and time based on contract? Selecting the wrong option could come back to haunt you.

To illustrate this point, I told a (mostly) true story that had happened at the vet school a few years back. A new study on the developmental stages of chimpanzees was starting up and a contract was created with a vendor to supply the vet school with 240 chimps. The university planned to have the young chimps arrive in groups of 20 once every other month over a period of two years. But, the contract didn't say anything about that plan...only that the university wanted 240 chimps.

Imagine the bad day the contract person had when all 240 chimps arrived at once a few weeks later. I understand it was not pretty.


Another important point in purchasing documents? Always double-check the unit of measure.

And another mini-story: Nine years later, our small company is still trying to use up the pallet of napkins ordered by an admin assistant who had meant to order a case. See what I mean...far-reaching consequences.

Funny thing though. The university used an online skills assessment at the end of each course to determine if the user passed the course and should be authorized to use the system. The assessment tool had a wide range of reporting options and I could look up group results by question and instructor. Not a single person who heard the monkey story in one of my classes got the assessment question about importance of contract type wrong. I wish I could say that for the rest of the questions. The story apparently stuck. And, some other points without supporting stories obviously didn't. The story gave them a hook for remembering at least that one important point.

I had a theatre history professor in college who had a particular fondness for telling us stories about how important people in theatre history died. While I don't really remember any other details about her, almost 20 years later I still remember poor Mary Saunderson who died in a tragic pageant wagon accident. The story stuck with me.

How to use storytelling to make training more effective:


So, how can you use storytelling in training to help engage learners and enhance retention in your training classes? Here are a few tips:

  • Identify a handful of important points in your course that you need learners to remember and develop stories to illustrate those points.
  • Utilize subject matter experts and business users to help you craft stories that will help your points be remembered.
  • Don't be afraid to use humor and/or "bad examples" in your stories. A story that illustrates what not to do can be a very effective tool in remembering important things to do.
  • Practice your stories. The way in which a story is told is just as important as its content.

Happy storytelling!


eLearning storyboard Templates Pack