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To tell the story of storytelling, we have to travel back in time, hurdling through many millennia to a time when our species was young, fresh, and scared. Danger lurked everywhere.
We don’t know precisely when or why humans began talking to each other, but it’s not hard to imagine that, in such a brutal age, each discovery had a tragic backstory. For example: The day your friend learned that saber-toothed cats had a taste for people was the day your friend list went down by one. For our progenitors, knowledge wasn’t just power — it was survival.
To avoid dangers and preserve the population, humans needed to share lessons learned; additionally, those lessons needed to be memorable enough to really stick with their audience. And it was here, in this scary world, beneath the night stars and around the firelight, that storytelling was born. But what, precisely, is storytelling, and why should Learning and Development (L&D) professionals be incorporating it into the learning experiences they design?
The National Storytelling Network defines storytelling as the “interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.”
When we’re talking about storytelling as a learning strategy that we can incorporate into our L&D practices, it’s no wonder pros seek to leverage this art for their learning experiences. After all, if storytelling isn’t the original learning strategy, it was certainly in the first suite of options. And it’s not just because it’s a time-tested strategy; recent research shows that our proclivity for storytelling is only natural. Our brains like to connect separate, distant events into a single, coherent narrative. These hippocampus-crafted tales are a fantastic way for us to hold onto details, sequences, and more. If we, as learning pros, map out those connections for our learners, we’re doing the work for them, and ensuring the narrative that winds up in their memories contains the correct information.
Storytelling’s benefits are big. First among them might be the emotional factor: When done correctly, storytelling hits you in the feelings — conveying emotion, which, recent research indicates, has a “substantial” influence on the cognitive processes in humans. If we want our audiences to pay attention and remember, tie content to emotion.
Storytelling can also help provide audiences with vivid examples and context of how and when the information can be applied. We might rely on crisp bullet points and neat tables to convey our content; and that’s no disrespect to either bullets or tables — both have their place in learning. But consider when a story might enhance the learning, and whether the bullets and tables could provide the reinforcement at the end.
Stories can immerse audiences in new worlds. As a learning strategy, this means our stories can elevate the experiences we provide, taking them out of a plodding, didactic approach and putting them on another level of engagement. When we circle back to our natural storytelling tendencies, our learners enrich their understanding of the material when they retell stories.
Versatility might be storytelling’s greatest power as a learning strategy. Storytelling is flexible. It’s elastic. It’s an art that can support all the topics in the world, on any modality imaginable. For modern learning experiences, stories can be told digitally, visually, orally, in text, or in any combination thereof. As a learning strategy, its potential is limitless, and only bound by the limits of the storyteller’s imagination.
Interested in learning more about storytelling as a learning strategy? Reach out to one of our Ardent experts today.
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