Story-telling as a means of imparting knowledge is as old as time itself. The stories of Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Aesop’s fables, the Odyssey, Grimm’s fairy tales and the like, entertain and educate even today.
While these stories have been passed on through generations- orally and through written text, technology can support us today. A blend of the new technology with the craft of storytelling is a unique combination to create winning knowledge imparters.
The blend we talk about is not altogether new. In the field of e-learning, edutainment has made efficient use of storytelling to achieve immense success. Everybody relates to a story well told, and if a learning module successfully engages its audience with the help of stories and anecdotes, it’s a job well done!
For an instructional design team working on an e-learning module, story-telling is a tool that comes handy. But like any other tool, it needs to be handled with care. Not every learner group reacts in the same way and preempting that reaction is important. While a strong, hard hitting story might invite a lot of response, an excess would only confuse the learner group. In such cases, the objective of learning is lost.
Also important is the flow of the story. The common elements of a story are: The Setting, the Characters, the Event, Development of plot, Climax and Ending.
While these traditional elements build a storyline, are there other ways of telling a tale? Open-ended stories do not generally follow the traditional dictates of how a story is built. The ending, is left for the learner to mull on. While this is sure to generate a definite learner response and even build on further into the course, it has to be a desired response to impact positively. Leaving an impressionable learner without a definite direction can be hazardous!
And then there is this quintessential question of ‘Where can I use stories?’ Building learning around stories works very well for the K-12 learner as young minds work better with examples and are open to suggestions that are derived from a tale. This is not to say that the concept of story-telling is ineffective for an adult audience. Learning courses on attitude evaluation or awareness programs do well with examples from real-life.
Current topics, social or political, can be infused into attitude evaluation programs to determine the views of the learners. This helps to gauge their attitude towards similar issues and evaluation is simpler. Awareness programs often deal with delicate issues and when preparing them, it is important to keep the learner sentiment in mind. A story, depicting characters that the learners can identify and sympathize with, can make them at ease. Often, it also gives them a sense of solidarity and opens them up to the ideas or information that we want to impart.
Story-telling can also be interestingly infused in Managerial or Sales trainings. Here, graphical depiction or ‘visual storytelling’ can be adopted. Heavy reading can be a deterrent for the learner but images, graphics, charts or diagrams can convey the message – making the course short, yet impactful. For instance, a successful sales pitch can be illustrated through a series of graphical dialogue. This takes away the instructional nature of prose, but can convey the attributes of confidence, product knowledge and patience – all necessary for a sales pitch.
Storytelling then, is more of a strategy, than a methodology. As a strategy, it has to be worked out, keeping the learner and the course objective in mind. A strong tool in the hands of a smart designer – and we not only have a good story but also learn from it!