Instructional Design

Instructional Storytelling: How to Use the Hero’s Journey for Training

Even if you aren’t familiar with the term “hero’s journey,” you’ll recognize the premise. It’s the classic storyline pattern from all of your favorite childhood fairytales: hero is introduced; hero encounters trials; hero rises triumphant. Professor of Literature and mythologist Joseph Campbell was the first to formally identify the archetypal protagonist’s pattern in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

What does this mean for your training materials? The good news is, you don’t need an Academy Award-winning director to create meaningful and successful trainings. Instead, you can adopt the key steps from the hero’s journey and blend them with well-known training models to create a story that is as engaging as it is effective. The hero’s journey storyline immediately resonates with your learners because it makes them the hero of their own story: first, learners see themselves in the protagonist role; then, they get to work on the pathway to triumph. This journey elicits an Angel’s Cocktail of chemicals in your learner’s brains—dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins—making the learning more meaningful and engaging.

Analyzing the Audience

Before you start building your training, you need to create a road map for your audience. Who is your hero? Where is he or she going? What do you want them to feel? Learn? Take the time to understand your learners before committing to the storyline. 

After all, every hero needs a map. 

Case Study: Lord of the Rings as Learning Theory

The best way to teach is to show instead of tell. Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings is a classic example of a well-known, relatable hero. Throughout the first book (or movie, if you didn’t make it through J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga), Frodo goes through every step of the hero’s journey formula. Here’s a breakdown of how the hero’s journey works in The Lord of the Rings and how, with the addition of the ADKAR model, it can work for your training. 

We recently worked with the sales department of a well-known social media powerhouse who wanted their new salespeople to succeed in their roles. First, we talked to the sales team and mapped out our audience. Then, we utilized the ADKAR model to outline exactly what was needed to change their existing habits and behavior. 

We created a hero’s journey-based onboarding that made each team member the protagonist in their very own Fellowship of the Ring story. Here’s how…



Analyzing The Lord of the Rings this way makes it clear that Frodo’s journey, while engaging and exciting, was really just a fantastical version of the ADKAR model. Through his story, he was aware of his quest; he had a desire to complete it; he was given the knowledge and ability; and eventually, the reinforcement he needed to return triumphant. And chances are that if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you were glued the entire way. 


Now that you know about the hero’s journey, you will start to see it everywhere. It’s the plot line of some of the most popular movies, from Star Wars to The Lion King — because it’s one of the most common and relatable plot arcs. 

Instructional storytelling is just like that: A good story may seem simple, but it’s actually a complicated marriage of neurotransmitters, attention, and behavioral change. Incorporating stories into your training allows your learners to experience, remember, and then act, resulting in a meaningful, memorable experience. Once you stop thinking about training as a checklist and more as a story, your learners’ own journeys can begin.