Instructional Design

The Reasons Strategic Storytelling Makes Learning More Effective

When we talk about storytelling and what it means to be a storyteller, what comes to mind? Some of us may imagine being huddled around a campfire, or remember the scary stories whispered in the dark during a sleepover. Or perhaps others think about a favorite novelist.  Whether oral or written, storytelling is deeply entrenched in our human history and continues to impact us, in very big ways, every day.

Why Stories Matter

Everything we do and participate in is revolved around a narrative. From the time we wake up and flip on the radio or turn on the news we’re participating in a culture of storytelling. When we listen to our podcasts, read our magazines and books, when we chat around the water cooler, scroll through our social media feeds, and when our friends and family come home and tell us about their day,  we’re playing a part in a narrative. “Tell me a story,” is not a request that dies with childhood. As humans (no matter our age) we need stories. They’re our heartbeat and our life force — the keeper of our collective experience and humanities’ ultimate legacy.

So what does this mean in the business world, and why should we incorporate storytelling skills into corporate learning? Historically, the workplace didn’t allow room for the kind of human-centered, emotionally-driven content we now know drives lasting engagement. It was too touchy-feely, too personal, too “messy.” But research has continued to prove that stories make our brains work differently.

Tying a to human experience, whether it’s a common struggle or acquiring a new skill set, improves the chances the information will be remembered because it touches something in us… we relate with the feeling it impresses on us more than the words itself.  Storytelling is the art of influence, impact, and persuasion,” says ELM Learning’s VP of Learning Experience Design, Greg Kozera.  “Storytelling is the way we share our human experience with one another to form a deep, long-lasting connection.”

It’s Kozera’s mission to help clients tell their company story in the most compelling way possible. “No matter what industry you hail from,” Kozera says, “strategic storytelling is a must-have if you want to create learning with any sort of long-term impact. It’s the secret ingredient to truly successful learning design.”

How to Incorporate The Art of Storytelling in Learning

But there’s more than one way to implement narrative strategy into corporate initiatives. You already know that the heart of business storytelling is a compelling, human-scale story. A great story also needs structure. Part of creating impact lies in its delivery, and there are several different approaches to an artfully arranged narrative. One of the most effective strategies is aligning your learner’s journey with what’s called the “Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey is a concept outlined by American professor Joseph Campbell in his renowned book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s a cycle which has been repeated for thousands of years and is featured in pretty much every storyline you can think of: from ancient myths and legends to Disney films and romantic comedies.

Basically, it goes like this: Our ordinary hero is quietly living in her ordinary, status quo world until she’s called to adventure. This is followed by a need for assistance, and then a departure from safety into the dangerous unknown where our hero is awaited by trials…you know the deal: riddles that need solving and traps that need escaping (after all, being a hero is hard work). Then there is the crisis phase, or the darkest hour, followed by a rebirth and a claiming of treasure. The resolution arrives when the hero returns to her ordinary world, but with a new perspective and new skills.

The Reason Strategic Storytelling Works

No matter how ordinary our lives are, we relate to heros because we are constantly faced with a challenge. We’re affected by tales of adversity and overcoming monsters because we have our own “monsters”… even if they’re as garden variety as improving communication skills or becoming a better manager.  But no matter which route you take, there are two things you must to know: One, your audience, and two, the core value (or message) you want to instill. Once you extract your message and get your learner nailed down, then you can focus on the fun stuff: the story. With the power of direction and a good, old-fashioned yarn, you can’t go wrong.


 Subject Matter Expert: Greg Kozera, VP of Experience Learning Design

 Author: Sara Cardoza, Script Lead

 Designer: Dana Owens, Designer