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Learning Style Series - Part 1: Story-telling

We can all remember the fairy tales we were read as children - the colourful characters, the compelling plot-lines and the overarching message that the story was trying to tell. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves taught us not to give in to vanity, Pinocchio taught us to tell the truth, and Cinderella taught us to behave well in the face of adversity to eventually receive our reward.

Fairy tales, have been used for hundreds of years as learning tools. Now, in the world of online learning, we can still use the fairy tale formula in the creation of training courses. Stories work as learning tools because people connect with the characters on a human level and the familiar structure of a story helps them remember the message that is being conveyed.

The question is, how do we get from informative subject fact sheets or slides, to an engaging story with memorable characters?  And how do we ensure that we don't lose the teaching focus along the way?  We have come up with 5 tips to help get you started on your story-telling journey.

1) Structure

At school, the teacher always tells pupils that an essay needs a 'beginning,' a 'middle' and an 'end.' This is exactly what is required when setting out to write an educational story. You need to start by identifying the problem and use your characters to establish how to solve the problem. Next you need the middle - the actions that your characters will take to solve the problem. Finally, you need the solution - have your characters achieved what they set out to do?  What have they learnt in the process of getting there?

2) Characters

The most important thing to remember when introducing characters to the story is that every character must serve a purpose. The reason you are creating this story is to use as a teaching method, there's no point in getting side-tracked developing characters that offer nothing to the overall message.

3) Simplicity

Keep it simple. If you have your beginning, middle and end firmly in mind, this should be easy. Don't go off on tangential story threads that over-complicate the message. Your story will have much more impact if the story is simple, linear and easy to understand.

4) The Tools

Find a good balance of text, interactions and imagery. People are used to reading stories, so you may be able to get away with more text when writing a story format eLearning course than you would otherwise. Equally 'a picture tells a thousand words' so making sure you use good imagery will help you convey your message. And it is a story, so you can have fun with it - using interactions such as drag and drop, slide and reveal and flipping panels (as in SkillGate WhizzAuthor), can help you make your story more interactive and memorable.

5) Use real life scenarios

It's much easier to write what you know than to make it up. Draw from your real life experiences to build your characters and situations. You will be able to write much more convincingly if you really understand what you are writing about.