Like 5 million other people, I recently became addicted to This American Life’s podcast Serial. Breaking iTunes records for downloads, Serial uses audio storytelling to document journalist Sarah Koenig’s investigation into a 1999 murder in the US. Its runaway success offers learning designers food for thought.
Serial appealed to so many people because it used narrative; it allowed listeners to engage with key characters and identify with an emotional journey. It’s the same reason our compliance series The S.A.F.E. Files resonates with our clients and so many learners.
Narrative works so well because it functions as a ‘sense-making device’ (Caminotti et al. 2012, p. 432). It helps us ‘make sense’ of or process information. Good eLearning does this by giving learners an opportunity to make decisions, which allows them to:
- Experience risk
- Empathise with different points of view
- See the consequences of decisions.
This is backed up by a 2012 study conducted by the University of Central Florida (Hirumi et al. 2012). The study compared learning outcomes for online courses using a storytelling approach with online courses using a conventional approach. The results indicated that learners who completed the online course that incorporated storytelling reported higher perceived levels of:
As you can see, storytelling – whether in the form of case studies, scenarios, whole-course narrative arcs or real-life experiences – can be an incredibly powerful approach to eLearning. Although narrative may not be appropriate for every course, the team at Learning Seat is committed to using it whenever possible. We’ve read the research. We’ve shown it works. And we know storytelling offers better ROI for our clients and better training for their people.
Atsusi, H and Sivo, S 2012, ‘Storytelling to enhance teaching and learning: the systematic design, development, and testing of two online courses’, International Journal on E-Learning, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 125–151
Caminotti, E and Gray, J 2012, ‘The effectiveness of storytelling on adult learning’, Journal of Workplace Learning, vol. 24, no. 6 pp. 430–438
Serial podcast, serialpodcast.org, accessed 26 January 2015