Storytelling tips to create great eLearning

The art of storytelling is at the heart of effective eLearning. Dani Maguire explains how best to use stories to create engaging online learning. 

From ancient times, humans have always learned through storytelling. Think about it. Years of history handed down by word of mouth, fantastic tales that have grown and developed through the ages, only to be elevated to those blockbuster movies which entertain us.

Consider your early years. I bet you still remember the tale of an extremely hungry little insect in detail, rather than the first textbook you received at school. It’s because it’s all about the story.

We still learn in the same way now. When we’re upskilling with online courses, learners soon switch off if the content doesn’t grip them. Which is why eLearning that tells stories – with characters, themes and plot – always outperforms mundane slideshows when it comes to knowledge retention and learner enjoyment.

 Even when we come across a well presented eLearning course, it’s always the stories that we remember the most. So, here are my top tips for telling a good story in order to produce great learning content.

1. Consider your audience:
Good learning should be accessible for all people. Equally, certain subjects aren’t suitable for everyone’s needs. If the tone is too high-brow, you’re going to alienate many of your audience. If it’s too simple, you’re liable to make more skilled learners zone out. 

2. Have a beginning, a middle and an end:
All good stories have them, and so should your eLearning. Introduce characters, paint a picture of the problems they may be having, then suggest ways to resolve them in the conclusion.

3. Keep learning centre stage:
It’s easy to get carried away with the plot, theme and characters. But if you’re creating eLearning content, that should all be secondary to the learning itself. You can tell much of a story visually, rather than explicitly telling learners what is going on and distracting them from the subject.

4. Make your characters memorable:
Colourful, larger-than-life characters are always better than blend-into-the-background stock images – if you can create them. You can’t tell a story with characters who are bland and that the audience doesn’t relate to. And remember, everyone is the main character in their own personal story.

5. Use the bizarreness effect:
Writing something bland that merely covers the learning objectives won’t draw people in. Something a bit more creative, and a little bizarre, can work better. Just remember not to overdo it, otherwise learners will only remember the weirdness and not the learning.

6. Use plain, simple language:
A friendly conversational style, with complicated terms easily explained, is best. And you may think that acronyms are well known, but not everyone has the same background and experience. Assume nothing and write as you would speak.

7. Think about the rhythm of your words:
Five-word sentences are fine. Really. Even three words. One. But to really make music with your words, you need to vary the length. If you want to be precise, aim for 15 word sentences as a maximum, unless you want to engage your learner for longer. A combination of short, medium and long sentences through will create copy that learners will love to read. 

iAM’s storytelling processes explained
Read more on how to create content that engages your learners, using tried and tested techniques to help people remember what they’ve learned. By the end, you’ll have a step-by-step guide to creating your own learning content, with the benefit of our extensive experience, not only with L&D, but with storytelling and design, too. 

About by Dani Maguire

Dani Maguire is ​​the Lead Scriptwriter at iAM Learning. With years of experience writing creatively for magazines, retailers and more, Dani now creates engaging eLearning content and leads a team of brilliant scriptwriters. Brimming with ideas, Dani also writes social content and other marketing pieces for both the learning and compliant sides of iAM.


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