Storytelling in elearning - magical book

What are the key elements of effective storytelling in eLearning?

This is the first in a series of insights where we explore the power of storytelling in learning. Here, we explain how we combine storytelling with interactive strategies to create more effective and memorable learning experiences. In our second post, we will explain the value visual metaphors (themes or concepts) can add to learning through storytelling. In the third and final post, we will identify ways that gamification works with storytelling to enhance learning experiences.


To be a person is to have a story to tell.

Isak Dinesen


Every one of us has time to stop and listen to a good story. Not only that, we effortlessly remember the stories that captivate us and often retell them to others. Before literacy, stories were the main way people passed on their culture and values from one generation to the next. Today, they remain critical to the way we communicate with one another.

Stories help us make sense of world around us. They satisfy our curiosity by explaining the origins of things – why events happen, how things change, and how people come to be as they are. Stories appeal to us emotionally – if we can empathise with the characters or see some aspect of ourselves in the story, we are more likely to identify with it, to remember important facts and details, and even feel motivated to change our behaviour as a result.

In short, stories are an intrinsic part of how we learn and change. And this makes storytelling a very powerful tool in designing eLearning courses, where the aim is very often to encourage a change in attitude and behaviour. As one of our SiyonaTech clients put it:

“The work that we do is not about laws or regulations, it’s about behaviours and inspiring those around us to do what is right because they WANT to not because they HAVE to. Storytelling is the ignition that sparks our emotion. It’s what allows us to learn from others experiences, shape our opinions and strengthen our values. It’s how we learn best no matter our age, background, or ethnicity”.

How best can we include storytelling in eLearning? Effective eLearning should always be an active learning experience. To create truly effective eLearning experiences, it’s important to combine great storytelling with active learning opportunities that place the learner in control of their own learning process.

At SiyonaTech, we combine the power of storytelling with strong interactive strategies to create memorable and motivating learning experiences. Here are some of key elements of how we do this:

Setting the scene

A key principle of storytelling is ‘show, don’t tell’. The learner should experience the story through events, actions, thoughts and feelings, rather than having it explained to them. We use animated video sequences, audio sequences or text and graphic builds to set the scene, depicting events and characters quickly and with maximum visual impact to build a sense of drama and intrigue.

Compelling characters

We spend time developing complex characters with their own virtues, weaknesses and motivations.  Strong characters should have a back story which provides reasons for why they behave as they do. This insight into the characters emotional lives, their fears, insecurities, blindspots and incompetencies, is what makes them relatable to the learner.

Plausible scenarios and challenges

The storyline might be based in fantasy (for example, considering insider trading risk by navigating conversations at a 1920s society event) or workplace reality (considering the unfolding impact of a cyber incident within an office). But whatever the context, to sustain the learner’s interest and engagement, it’s important that the situations and challenges depicted are recognisable and realistic to them.

Questions, interactive exercises and gamelets can be framed as dilemmas, challenges and decision points that simultaneously move the story along and provide the learner with opportunities to check their understanding and consolidate what they have learned.

For example, trapping your learner in a mountain cave with fellow mountaineers to wait out a snowstorm could provide an opportunity to reflect on how they respond to stressful situations. The strategies they consider might in turn be helpful next time they are stuck in a confrontational meeting. 

Placing your learner at a pharmaceutical conference where they are under pressure to answer questions from an insistent journalist could help them consider how to put their Code of Conduct into practice. Sending your learner on a mission to Mars, where the engines fail and everyone else is looking for guidance, provides a fresh take on how to have an ownership mindset.

A satisfying conclusion

All good stories need a satisfying conclusion where conflict has been resolved and order restored. This is an opportunity to extend the traditional summary page into a more memorable and satisfying ending that provides:

  • a celebration of the learner’s achievement and progress
  • a consolidation of the key takeaways
  • a call to action

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