Stories have been wielded as tools for teaching throughout most of human history. Whether it be the exploits of gods used to explain natural phenomena or the adventures of mischievous cats and daring princesses showing children right from wrong, tales of teaching have existed since stories were first told. Even now, centuries after the birth of myth and fairytale, stories are used every day even more versatile ways. We have documentaries airing on almost any subject you can imagine, and switching to the children’s channel will reward you with cartoon pigs teaching children how to recycle, or puppies showing the power of teamwork. Amongst this history of storytelling, perhaps the most timeless tales of all are the fables of Aesop. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then look no further than his most iconic story, The Tortoise and The Hare. It is through the lens of this timeless story that we can explore the value of storytelling as an eLearning tool.
There is no need to worry if you are unfamiliar with The Tortoise and The Hare, it is a fairly simple story with a straightforward message. Simply put, a tortoise and a hare agree to a race, despite the fact that the hare has a clear natural advantage when it comes to speed. Given this advantage, the hare does not take the race seriously, does not prepare well and sprints off the starting line. The tortoise, despite his disadvantages, takes the race very seriously, adequately prepares and sets of from the starting line at a steady pace. Eventually, the hare runs out of energy and takes a rest, having spent it all in his initial sprint. While the hare rests, the tortoise continues to make steady ground, eventually overtaking the hare and crossing the finish line while his opponent sleeps. A person is free to take many lessons from this tale, but the key message at its core is a simple “slow and steady wins the race.”
And now a question arises as to why a race between a tortoise and hare is relevant to the relationship between storytelling and effective learning. If you take that story and imagine that the hare is a learner who is rushing through their education with nothing but facts and figures and the tortoise is a learner who is taking their time with a storytelling approach to their acquisition of knowledge, then the intention here should become clearer.
It may seem easy and efficient to rush through the experience of learning by listing out facts, figures and instructions and racing through them. And for a time that may be accurate, until the information becomes overwhelming and unretainable. On the other hand, telling a story may feel like a slower and more meandering path, but the information collected on the way is so much more memorable and digestible, and ultimately this method reaches the finish line first.
There are a multitude of reasons to follow the tortoise’s path and here are three that prove that slow and steady wins the race:
1: Storytelling is the perfect way to generate some initial interest.
Learning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. After a childhood of schooling, some think of learning as being told facts and figures for hours on end. Thankfully, this isn’t the reality of eLearning, and introducing a module with an interesting story does wonders to ensure that these expectations are shifted, giving learners the chance to get engaged and excited about learning.
2: Learners get a chance for emotional connection.
It can be worrisome that in the world of technology that genuine emotional connection is harder to develop with a multitude of glowing screens blocking the way. By incorporating storytelling into eLearning modules, the barrier of a screen can be overcome. Something as simple as sharing a personal anecdote to relate to learner’s own experience goes a long way in developing an environment where emotional connections can be forged, creating deeper engagement with learning materials and concepts.
3: A story can help bring clarity to unfamiliar concepts.
When presented with a new and challenging concept, simply hearing the associated jargon and technical details may leave a learner more confused than ever as they balance a whole host of brand-new information. By presenting new concepts within the framework of a story, the information can be contextualised in a more digestible way. For example, trying to teach someone unfamiliar with physics how gravity works would be rather confusing if only raw equations were presented, but accompanying these equations with the story of Newton seeing an apple fall contextualises gravity withing the physical world first and makes explaining the equations easier.
From Aesop to the internet, storytelling stands that test of time as an effective way to learn. Whether it be through analogy, anecdote or something in between, telling a story is the perfect way to engage learners and create memorable lessons.
Kumar, Suresh. “3 Ways to Increase the Impact of Your Digital Learning Programs with Storytelling.” Tesseract Learning, 21 Dec. 2022, https://tesseractlearning.com/blog/generic/3-ways-to-increase-the-impact-of-your-digital-learning-programs-with-storytelling/.
Zambito, Victoria. “Why Storytelling Works In eLearning.” eLearning Industry, 15 July 2018, https://elearningindustry.com/storytelling-works-in-elearning-why.