Increase eLearning Retention with Storytelling

Written by Bill Cushard | Jan 29, 2014 9:04:46 PM

One technique that helps to make our eLearning content digestible is to break it up into bullet point lists of talking points. A bullet point list is easy to scan, and the content is easier to remember. No one wants to read large paragraphs of text during an eLearning course, right? Of course not. In fact, I have used bullet points in my eLearning courses for years because it works. 

Or does it?

Learning Solutions Magazine recently published an article citing research that shows recall was better when information was presented in a narrative compared to a bullet point list. People respond better to stories than to lists. Contrary to what I think I should believe about this, I agree with it. In fact, I recently completed a sexual harassment eLearning course, and I was surprised how engaging it was. I realize now that it was the stories that I paid the most attention to.

Few things are more daunting than the thought of taking a two hour, self-paced eLearning course about sexual harassment. But I must say, the course did a nice job using stories to make points about behavior that may or may not be considered harassment.

We Love Bullet Point Lists, But We Love Stories More

We know intuitively that stories move us. We can all think of times when we were on the edge of our seats listening to a friend, family member, or even a good conference speaker tell a story. We often remember those stories for a long time. If we know that stories can help us remember things, and that there is research that shows this is true, why don’t we use stories more in our eLearning courses?

The likely answer is that bullet point lists are easier to create because that is what we are used to doing. To change, we need to build some momentum using stories in our eLearning course.

Here’s How to Get Started

One to way to get started using stories in our eLearning courses can be quite simple. For example, when creating an eLearning course for a customer relationship management (CRM) system, instead of showing people how to use the features in the “Account” tab, you could tell a story. The story can be just short enough to frame the situation.

For example:

You get a call from Mary, a customer who is having trouble with her account. She has not received statements in three months, and now she is looking to move into a new apartment. The apartment management company wants two months of her most recent bank statements as part of the application process. Mary does not want to lose this apartment, which is located in a popular area of her city, where available apartments stay on the market for less than a week. She is in a rush and annoyed that this problem might cause her to lose this apartment. How can you help Mary?

This is an example of how you can use a simple story to frame a lesson in an eLearning course. This simple story sets up several lessons in customer service and in the use of CRM features that can be shown in your eLearning course. It sure beats the typical, “Now let’s click over to the accounts tab and learn how to send customers a duplicate statement.”

How do you use stories in your eLearning courses?

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.