what is story based learning

What is a story-based approach to learning?

Posted November 4th, 2022

Ensuring employee engagement is one of the biggest concerns for course developers, trainers and other learning and development professionals.

Any training course is only as valuable as the knowledge and skills that are transferred to learners. So, professionals are constantly looking for techniques to ensure their learning programs are effective.

Everybody enjoys a good story. As children, we are taught morals through fairy tales and fables. In truth, we all love to peek into other’s lives, real or fictitious and go on a journey with them. Therefore, stories can be used to spark the interest of corporate learners and encourage their engagement. This is known as a story-based approach to learning.

Why use a story-based approach?

When stories are used to pass on information and knowledge, learners can immerse themselves in the course content and engage with it more effectively. This is due to several factors. It may be that learners identify with the story and thus they have a vested interest in the outcomes, or perhaps their curiosity and nosiness is spiked, meaning they are more motivated to pay attention to the course.

Are there different types of story-based approaches? 

Not all stories are the same, and this translates into training too. Different styles of story and different levels of active audience participation are available to trainers. 

Narrative-based. The first and perhaps most obvious type of story-based learning happens when learners are told a story. In this instance, the learner is an outsider, and the story is narrated to them. These types of stories seek to establish an emotional connection between the learner and the characters in the story with the intention of encouraging them to be invested… and thus engaged.

This approach can be used to help learners understand the experience of another person or group of people that they may come across in their jobs, for example.

Trainers must stay focused on the moral of the story or the relevant elements that assist in portraying the knowledge that is being taught. This approach risks using too many bells and whistles and can sometimes become convoluted. Corporate learners see through fluff, and it can have the opposite effect on boosting engagement!

Case-based. Case-based learning is popularly used in legal and business training. This method imparts knowledge by offering real-life examples. We are more motivated by the lesson when we know someone else has been there and has ultimately reaped benefits. Especially if we want the same success for ourselves. Conversely, we want to avoid making mistakes that others have already made. Learners in these situations are not expected to solve the case, but rather examine and engage with it as it is told to them, helping them understand every stage of the story and its outcome.

It is important that learners immediately understand their relation to the story and how it is relevant to them. Whilst they do not need to solve the case, it can be helpful to take pauses and allow learners to think through a problem in more depth before hearing what happened next. 

Scenario-based. Scenario-based is the most popular form of story-based learning used in e-learning. In this training approach, learners are placed directly into a scenario and forced to make choices based on existing or recently taught knowledge. Effectively, this is a form of simulation and is a popular form of gamification.

Learners are here able to explore different options through trial and error, making it a safe space for them to understand different scenarios related to their profession. This immersive training forces learners to be engaged, they cannot tune out when they are the ones making choices and taking action!

This is also a great way to monitor knowledge retention. These types of activities can be used at the end of an e-learning course to see if learners can put the information given into practice.

Problem-based. Finally, problem-based stories present learners with a problem in the form of a scenario or case and ask them to solve it. This forces engagement as learners cannot avoid thinking about the situation at hand. The hope is that the relevant knowledge and skills will be received by the learners as they work through the problem. They are encouraged to assess information and make decisions. In many cases, there is no one right answer. 

These problems are often used to teach soft skills. Sometimes the problem itself may not even be the relevant knowledge. For example, active listening and communication skills can be developed by asking learners to collaborate in groups to solve problems.

These four approaches are not mutually exclusive, and they can work together in many training situations. Separating them into four types helps to identify the different benefits of each.

How can a story-based approach be used? 

Stories can be incorporated into training in multiple ways.

The entire context of the course. Starting off a training course with a master scenario is a great way to keep learners engaged. In this approach to story-based learning, learners’ attention is immediately grabbed by a story that is presented to them at the beginning. From here, any knowledge taught or presented to them can be tied back to the story, including the outcomes.

This approach means learners are less likely to feel like they are being bombarded with information, instead they are following a story as the learning path follows a narrative with a cast of characters.

Smaller scenarios. Smaller scenarios can be used in a training classroom or e-learning. Using smaller scenarios allows a lot of possible problems to be covered. Learners are given mini, specific scenarios and asked to make a quick decision to make a point of teaching a lesson.

Or, a training course may involve multiple modules and multiple lessons, this may require a few different case-based stories, or a problem-based story at the end of each module, for example. Ultimately, different approaches can be utilised for different training courses and subjects. 

Gamification in e-learning. Touched on previously, scenarios and problems are often utilised in e-learning as a form of gamification. This can be used as part of the main course or utilised as an assessment feature at the end. Gamification accelerates learning and helps information retention.

Story-based learning encourages a boost in productivity.

Not only has story-based learning proven to boost employee engagement in training courses of any subject matter, any approach to story-based learning can be personalised to the company. This may be the use of real cases and scenarios that employees have experienced, or fictitious narratives based on the role that the learners are in. This helps employees feel connected to the company which promotes engagement and boosts day-to-day productivity.

Story-based learning also encourages employees to connect with one another. Fun and engaging processes are more likely to spark conversations between employees. A connected workplace is a healthier one, and therefore, a more productive one.

Ultimately, story-based approaches vary dramatically, and training professionals have the freedom to use them in a way that suits their training goals best. This type of training encourages and motivates learners to push their boundaries. It is engaging, fun, and can appeal to a wide variety of different learners.

Trainer Bubble incorporate many story-based learning approaches into our off-the-shelf e-learning courses and learning products and have worked with many clients to develop custom-made learning that include contextual stories aim at specific learning needs. You can view our e-learning courses here or contact us to discuss your specific requirements.


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