Getting InSync » Latest Articles

Stories: Their Engagement Power

Engaging learners using stories and storytellingI bet someone read the same book to you over and over again at bedtime when you were young. You loved that story. You knew it by heart. You could see it in your head without the pictures. Sometimes, you put yourself in the place of the main character. You might even have learned something that continues to influence your life to this day.

I bet you still remember that story, so many years later. It was that compelling and meaningful. You connected.

This impact of storytelling, it turns out, is not just for children. Stories are also very valuable learning tools for adults. The same story elements that capture young minds also captivate professional learners. And that is why these assets are embedded in blended learning campaigns, across mediums, to build competencies in relatable ways.

What is it about stories that keep learners engaged? Communication expert Peg Neuhauser, founder and president of PCN Associates, explains:

Stories allow a person to feel, and see, the information, as well as factually understand it. Because you “hear” the information factually, visually and emotionally, it is more likely to be imprinted on your brain in a way that it sticks with you longer, with very little effort on your part.

That makes sense. Stories help learners make natural, emotional connections to their experiences. They illustrate concepts and seamlessly slide themselves into a person’s psyche. They paint a broader picture of a situation, time, space, or place. Think about, for instance, interactive scenarios that start off a learning task, the ones that put a realistic conflict or challenge – like negotiating a difficult customer or the intricacies of safety compliance – into a story context. The learner relates to the character, maybe steps into his or her shoes to solve a problem that, perhaps, is similar to one experienced in the actual workplace.

Meaning: relevance is integral to engagement and retention. And stories bring real-world life to that relevance.

Adult learning experts underscore that a story is persuasive: when it is contextualized, learners are mentally immersed, engaged, and will likely remember and then perform, post-training, the desired modeled behaviors. Basically, a good, realistic story stimulates learning and action. You and Co., a leader in inbound marketing, speaks to this impact:

With the help of brain-imaging, neurologists have also shown that our brains become more active when we are told a story. Normally, the “language processing” region of the brain would light up when we take in new information. However, when information is delivered in the form of a story, other areas become activated as well, such as the sensory cortex and motor cortex. These are the parts of the brain typically triggered when we experience events first-hand.

If we know we can “light up” the brain with storytelling, and we know that it pulls the learner in, then it makes sense to use stories in our blended learning programs.

And where better do they fit than in the visual and audio aspects of our offerings? Videos, podcasts, webinars, etc., are ideal storytelling mediums. A narrative video, for example, can help establish a scenario and model a skill for learners to master. A podcast with an underlying story can keep our learners enthralled as they aurally absorb and process new knowledge.

Frank Rose, a contributing editor to Wired Magazine, elaborates on this point. He points out that designing, developing, and delivering learning materials in story format can result in learning that can become more meaningful and memorable:

Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature – a face, a figure, a flower – and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.

It’s worth building stories into your learning initiatives’ video and/or audio assets. You can produce them from scratch or select from libraries of existing materials. As you consider how to incorporate storytelling into your blended learning programs, refer to this modified list that eLearning, information, and visual designer Connie Melamed has created.


  • Are the emotional glue that connects the audience to the message
  • Ground people in the contextual “origins” of a concept, idea, history at the heart of a scenario or situation
  • Reshape knowledge into something meaningful
  • Make people care
  • Transcend one’s current environment
  • Give meaning to data
  • Are motivating
  • Are more likely to be shared

And, perhaps most important: people take time for stories. Think about that as a compelling entry point for learners delving into your learning campaign.


Published by Phylise Banner and Michele Israel November 28, 2017