How to leverage technology and storytelling to create learning that sticks.

How do we begin to design learning that will capture the essence of the content, stick with the audience, and ultimately achieve outstanding business results? The answer may be in what we have known all along: the story.

Living in a digital age

For most of us, the first thing we do in the morning is check our phones, and continue to swipe now and then throughout the day. And some of us would even confess to going to bed with our iPhones with the Facebook app open. We are also living in an age when work is no longer a place, it’s a state of mind.

As learning and development professionals, we have embraced this technology to deliver learning solutions that have the power to “pull” learners in and provide them with the freedom to access learning and information when they want and how they want. Indeed, we are experimenting and exploring all possibilities in the complex digital web with e-learning, apps, mobile learning, and virtual experiences, among others.

With such a vast range of media types and devices to chose from, it is quite easy to get so focussed on the delivery platform that we sometimes forget the all important aspect of learning solutions: the content. And with the technology around us changing at the pace that it is, is story-driven content even still relevant?

Human need for story is fundamental

Cognitive psychologists have described how our mind assembles the bits and pieces of an experience into a story. The human mind is not designed to remember bullet points, charts, or straight facts. Instead, we remember stories and characters—the hero, the bad guy, the sidekick. More important, we remember the lessons in a story.

As learning and development professionals, we need to cut through complex and dry content to create that memorable and motivating learning experience. Lucky for us, we can still do that with a simple story. Yes, that “thing" that makes us laugh, cry, and feel all sorts of emotions.

So, has technology not changed anything? Are we still communicating the way we did in the 15th century—by telling stories? The answer is no. The space has changed, the environment has changed, the possibilities have expanded, and storytelling has evolved because so have the learners.

Enter digital storytelling. Digital storytelling shares many characteristics with others forms of narratives, such as plays, novels, movies, and comic books. It finds its origins in a simple need: Learners don’t just want to hear a story; they want to be part of it. They want to move from passive consumption to being co-creators.

How do we use that to our advantage? How does it work?

Putting on your storyteller hat

To embed practice into your online learning program, you decide to make a game. It has all the right game mechanics to engage the learners and perfectly ticks all the boxes of the key learning outcomes. Now consider this:

  • What if this game had an environment that resembled the learners’ workplace?
  • What if they could create an avatar that looked like them, and move around within the “game world” creating their own story—conquering, failing, leading, and experiencing emotions almost like they were in it?
  • What if this game started with a short backstory before learners even started clicking, capturing, and shooting—setting a scene for learners to go into the game feeling for the characters and their mission?

Would learners feel more inspired to play the game over and over again? And would they come out with the learning embedded in their heart and mind?

Now imagine that you are building a learning app for new employees. You know from experience that a welcome from the CEO is a must. You are about to record him speaking to the camera, welcoming new employees with the best HD camera. But then you put your digital storyteller hat on and you scrap the idea.

Instead, you set up a blog for the CEO where he can upload his own videos on the move, in flight, at home with the kids, at a conference—sharing his messages with the employees on a regular basis. You open up the blog for comments and questions. You make it interactive and give employees an opportunity to build their own conversations and connections, giving them direct access and visibility.

Knowing when to go digital

What are your key trigger points to know that it is time to go digital and add storytelling to drive outcomes? Ask yourself whether the learning solution needs to:

  • engage hearts and minds to drive change?
  • open a conversation or discussion?
  • be an integrated part of a wider transformational change?

Let’s face it. In this evolving learning space, we are all trying to do the same thing. We are trying to connect with our learners, give our participants an immersive experience to entertain them, teach them, and entice the change ‘ninja’ in them. We are trying to ensure information retention and facilitate a consistent transfer of knowledge.

Technology and storytelling together help us do all of that—and more. And as learning technology evolves, so will the way we tell stories.