Storytelling in L&D
As L&D professionals, we want our training to stick. We know it’s critical to make learning content relatable and memorable. Yet, achieving that ‘stickiness’ module after module, and program after program, can be challenging. Sometimes you need more than pleasing visual design and novel interactivity to make a lasting impression on your learners.
That’s where storytelling comes in. This post will cover why storytelling can connect with your learners in a way that traditional instructional methods cannot; how using storytelling in your design can produces instruction that is sticky; and ways storytelling can be incorporated across your curriculum.
Why is Storytelling an Important Concept?
We’ve learned from neuroscience that our brain is hardwired for story. The enjoyment we get from a story is what hooks us into paying attention to it. It’s as if our brains are programmed to use stories to teach us about the world. They seem to sift through the information flying at us, and then places that information in the context of a story. That story is based on what our brains decide is important, and it is shaped by our emotional response to how that information may impact us. It makes us the main character in our story, and it gives us a reason to care.
Fans of Joan Didion may recall this passage from The White Album: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live... We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.” Storytelling gives us a framework for conveying human experience so that we can make sense of what is happening to us and around us. And stories themselves filter out the nonessential information that distracts us from the situation at hand. They show us what information to care about and why.
How does it work?
For that reason, storytelling is a favorite approach at Dashe. When we present training in the context of a story, the story shows us what information is essential, or need-to-know. This helps us filter out the nonessential, or nice-to-know, information that will distract learners from the key learning.
We love stories because they show us what information to care about and why. The “why” is a big deal to us at Dashe. That’s because we believe that for learning to be most effective, we need to engage learners at three levels: heart, head, and hands. Learners must believe (heart) that what they are learning has value, they must understand (head) the rationale and context for the material, and they must become competent (hands) to perform their jobs. Taking a storytelling approach lets us address all three levels of engagement, so that our outcomes are always sticky.
Storytelling puts the focus on the person, and personal stories bring ideas to life. The L&D professionals at Dashe know how to find the personal story at the heart of any topic and make it relatable to learners, so that we can connect it back to business objectives. We’ve found this approach works well for a wide range of learning solutions, whether it’s product training, skills training, or new hire orientation. Arguably, the learning content that benefits most from a storytelling approach is big data. Transforming spreadsheets, graphs and tables into compelling data-driven training stories gives learners a reason to engage with your learning solution and care about your content.
Whether synchronous or asynchronous, or in-person or digital, storytelling gives voice to your content in a way that serves purpose and meaning. We love it when we get to tell stories through motion graphic videos and live action videos. Our clients tell us some of those have been real tear-jerkers, making meaningful impact on their learners. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
You already integrate these elements when you create role-plays for sales training, soft skills training, and professional development training. Same goes for any scenario-based training or case studies you design for learners to practice applying new knowledge and information. The challenge, however, is finding ways to incorporate a storytelling approach for learning solutions that might otherwise be linear and mechanical. Dashe’s “heart, head, and hands” can help you with that can help you with that, so you can deliver learning content that is relatable and memorable.
Leveraging a storytelling approach in learning and development is a solid strategy that can span many domains and accommodate many use cases. This flexible, yet simplistic, approach is a powerful tool you can use throughout your L&D program. With it you can provide learners effective and impactful solutions that meet their training needs, and at the same time make meaning and forge connections between your organization and employees.
A. Damasio. Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York: Pantheon, 2010), 293.Joan Didion, The White Album (Didion, Joan. The White Album. 1979. Print.)
J. Tooby and L. Cosmides, 2001. “Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds? Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Aesthetics, Fiction and the Arts,” SubStance 30, no. 1 (2001): 6–27.
Lisa Cron. Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. (p. 8). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.