Storytelling with Scenario-based eLearning: Why It’s Not Just for Books.
23rd Apr 2019
We encounter stories every day of our lives. Whether we’re reading, hearing or telling them, stories have been used by humans for generations to make sense of the world. So, why not take full advantage of storytelling’s impact in your eLearning? With scenario-based eLearning, harness the power of storytelling to create a more compelling and meaningful learning experience.
The art of storytelling dates back thousands of years, with the earliest discovery being a series of cave drawings found 36,000 years ago. To this day, stories remain an intrinsic part of our society and culture. Not only does the act of sharing experiences provide entertainment and means of social interaction, we regularly turn to stories to assist in explaining concepts and ideas.
From childhood, we’re exposed to stories to teach us lessons about the world. Take fairy tales. Whilst they’re designed to entertain, their sole purpose was to educate children by creating cautionary situations they could learn from. In Beauty and the Beast, children are taught that looks are deceiving and to search for people’s inner beauty. Whereas, the moral of Little Red Riding Hood is for children to learn not to trust strangers.
And it doesn’t stop there. In adult life, we subconsciously fall subject to storytelling by using anecdotes or analogies to emphasise a point or clarify an idea.
So, if stories are crucial for humans to grasp new knowledge, how can we capture this and embed it into our eLearning?
The answer’s simple. Scenario-based eLearning.
What is scenario-based eLearning?
An increasingly popular eLearning technique, scenario-based eLearning presents learners with a hypothetical work scenario, where individuals make crucial decisions and are shown the consequences of them. This uses relatable situations for greater learning impact, as well as providing learners with a safe environment, where they can make mistakes, to practise newly acquired skills before putting them into action at work.
How does it involve storytelling?
In any good story, you set the scene. Whether it’s a vivid description of imagery, straight into the action or the famous ‘Once upon a time’, the opening is pivotal in setting the framework for the rest of the narrative.
This is no different from scenario-based eLearning.
It is essential that learners are given some background to set the context for the course. Imagine launching an eLearning activity and immediately being asked how you’d handle a situation, without knowing your role in the tale or even the circumstance for making the decision. Whilst we all love a good thriller that keeps us on our toes, to be actively involved in an eLearning scenario, and for it to be productive, individuals must be aware of the hypothetical environment and characters.
For example, an opening to a course may start like this…
"Meet Jack, he’s new to the business and needs to understand the company’s workplace policies."
Laying out the framework for the remainder of the course by immediately providing the learner with context.
Here, we’re talking about the very essence of story-telling, the scenario. In every narrative, there must be a situation that allows for the events to unravel. Even in those films where you leave the cinema and think nothing really happened, something definitely did, it was just subtler.
It may not be as drastic as a murder or a car chase in your eLearning, but nevertheless, the principle remains the same.
In scenario-based eLearning, the protagonist must be faced with a situation of some kind. Perhaps, dealing with a prospect or how to manage another employee, whatever the scenario, it is a necessity for individuals to practise skills and progress through a narrative of learning.
Far from boy meets girl and lives happily ever after, scenario-based earning still needs an outcome. This could be your learner completing a series of leadership scenarios and having a productive team or seeing a happy client in the picture because of how you handled their questions in the scenario.
Not quite a Romeo and Juliet ending but reaching a conclusion nonetheless.
Why is storytelling with scenario-based eLearning effective?
How many times have you been completing training and asked yourself, why do I need to know this? It’s safe to say most of us have felt like this in our lives and that’s exactly why more businesses should embrace storytelling approaches.
Rather than presenting learners with masses of generic information, scenario-based eLearning places people in situations they would really encounter in their job, making the learning specific to their individual job role. By highlighting how it’s applicable to their positions, it should encourage learners to interact with the course.
If you know it’s useful, you’re going to pay attention.
We’ve all been there. Sat in front of the TV, jaw on the floor, hoping our favourite character doesn’t die in the episode. Game of Thrones fans know this feeling all too well.
But, why do we feel so invested in stories?
We humans are deeply empathetic creatures and stories tap into our ability to identify with characters feelings and behaviours, fostering cognitive empathy.
Cognitive Empathy is an individual’s understanding of other people’s emotions and experiences, which enables us to comprehend concepts and behaviours. Therefore, evoking empathy through storytelling assists learners with acquiring new knowledge. Consequently, making scenario-based eLearning especially useful in the development of people management and customer service skills.
Not only that, crafting narratives that make us feel empathy, motivate us to display desired behaviours. Daniel Taylor, a novelist who focuses on the influence of stories, argues that “A story does what facts and statistics never can: it inspires and motivates”, a statement proven in numerous studies.
Particularly influential research is neuroscientist Dr Paul J Zak’s investigation into the neurological effect of storytelling. He tested the impact of oxytocin, the chemical released in the brain when we experience empathy, on human's motivation to engage in cooperative behaviours.
Participants either received a dose of oxytocin or a placebo and watched a series of 16 videos on 4 topics: binge drinking, smoking, speeding and global warming. They were subsequently asked questions about details of the video to earn 5 dollars and then asked if they would donate this money to the relevant causes shown. Those who received the oxytocin were 56% more likely to donate due to the increased level of empathy.
Therefore, in scenario-based eLearning, creating relatable characters that learners can get behind and empathise with, should positively influence people to display desired behaviours.
One of the biggest problems with employee training is a learner’s ability to remember the information. In our modern world, we’re so overloaded with knowledge it’s not easy to cram anything else into our memory. Or is it?
When we tell stories, it allows for Elaborative Encoding to happen. This process relates new information with pre-existing knowledge and experiences for new information to be stored in the brain. Put simply, our brain recognises the familiar aspects of the story and links it to those experiences for us to make meaning.
In terms of eLearning, using distinctive workplace features and situations associates the scenario with their existing job, thus, increasing people’s ability to remember the learning outcomes.
If stories have such a dramatic impact on us, then it seems only logical to adopt these techniques in our eLearning. Applying storytelling approaches in your scenario-based eLearning eliminates both the stress of driving user engagement and increasing knowledge retention.
And that’s enough for anyone to live happily ever after…