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Aug 15, 2017 Karin Rex

Stories = Engagement = Learning

Storytelling and Learner EngagementStorytelling has a long history as one of most fundamental communication methods. From paintings on cave walls to Egyptian hieroglyphs, to the first words ever written on papyrus with ink, people have been telling and listening to stories.

We love to HEAR stories, too! As children, we all begged our parents for “one more story!” And many of us remember the morals of those stories even now as adults.

We all enjoy a good story and revere a good storyteller. Whether it’s an engrossing novel, an exciting movie, or a facilitator telling us about the horrible-no-good-rotten-awful experience they endured the very first time they tried to facilitate training in the virtual classroom.

Narrative engages us. It adds context to content, making it spring to life. Stories grab our attention, generate anticipation, and boost retention.

Don’t believe me? How many years has it been since you last read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” Do you still remember the moral of the story?

What Engages Us Can Also Teach Us

Stories let you “try things on for size” and learn what to do – or not to do – in certain circumstances.

Just like the story of “The Tortoise and The Hare” taught us that “slow and steady wins the race,” the content-related war story your facilitator shares in a class on the topic of teaching in the virtual classroom, will resonate longer than any set of bullet points on a slide.

Which of these do you think you would remember better a few weeks after seeing/hearing it: A or B?

A: This slide read to you (no story)

 KRex pre BYTE guest blog image 08142017.png

B: This story (with or without a slide) as told in the virtual classroom (with built-in engagement requests in italics)

When I first started teaching in the virtual classroom, I felt really disconnected with my participants. [Do you ever feel that way? Give me a green check if Yes; red X if no. Ask one or two green checks for particulars.]

Sometimes I felt as though I were the only person in the room. So, one day, I opened a blank whiteboard up and asked my participants to be completely honest and tell me what else they were doing at that very moment in class.

One person was doodling; another was folding laundry.

Both of those answers were okay with me. Some people need to keep their hands busy to keep their minds engaged. (I sometimes knit during long meetings in which I don’t have an active role. It forces me to pay attention to those speaking.)

However, one participant told me that he was watching a turkey defrost, which gave me pause.

And three participants (out of 14) did not put anything on the board. [What do you suppose that lack of response meant? Tell me in Chat. Comment appropriately.]

This got me thinking. What am I doing wrong? If watching a turkey defrost is more engaging than my live lesson, I am in more trouble than a June Bug stuck in molasses!

From that day forward I became an engagement hound. I commanded the classroom with my voice. I told stories. I worked harder at engaging my participants in the content. I started to use all the tools available in the virtual classroom – and I listened better. [Why or how do you suppose I practiced listening better? Raise your hand. Call on volunteers. Comment appropriately.]

Yes! If you think about it, [mention participant response here] is about judging the quantity and quality of the responses I was getting! How long did it take people to respond to my questions or requests for green checks/red X’s or chat replies? Did everybody respond? (If not, I started asking them by name to respond.) When people did respond, did their replies add to the conversation? Was the person’s tone of voice excited about the topic – or bored? Did they ask me to repeat the question? Paying attention to all of this helped me read my participants’ “body language” even though I could not “see” them.

The virtual classroom is yours to command – or to cede power over. It’s your choice.

I am using my "Spidey powers" to guess that you would remember B longer than A, even though the content is the same. Hearing that facilitator’s war story makes you put yourself in his shoes.

That’s because evolution has wired our brains to make use of storytelling!

Why does the format of a story, where actions unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning? How can you come up with stories that make your content come alive? To get started, think about a time that a story helped you understand and remember a concept. If you're still stuck, we can help! Contact us to learn how to get started leveraging storytelling and other techniques to engage your learners.

Published by Karin Rex August 15, 2017
Karin Rex