Stories are as old as humanity itself. They were used to make sense of the world, to establish order and rules and lately to entertain. The educational potential of storytelling has also been used in teaching programs designed for all ages for a long time.

Tales have a structure that makes them engaging, easy to follow and able to smoothly make a memorable point. We all know what Snow White, Cinderella or The Emperor’s New Clothes are about and as adults we realize that the take-aways we remember since childhood hold even more truth in our older years.

Stories are fascinating and have the power to conjure immense connection from the audience. The most recent example is the infamous Game of Thrones series. People are constantly looking for a good tale and this is why incorporating stories in everything having to do with adult learning will always pay off.

How to incorporate stories in your online course

If you are creating an online course and you already have all the information, you have figured out everything from the target audience to the venues where you will promote it but still feel you need some extra zing, a touch of epic might just be what your product needs to go from good to mind-blowing – because let’s face it, it’s what you should be going for if you want to get referrals, increase your customer base and start making serious money from tapping into the great potential of knowledge entrepreneurship. So here are some ways you can bring stories into your course.


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  1. Story-based simulations

    The superpower of stories is that they manage to create a powerful emotional connection with the reader or listener. Taking that and using it in simulations will result in unprecedented engagement and participation on the part of learner.

    You can create a storyline that people can experience first-hand – if your course is about excellent interpersonal relations it could be about meeting a new person with obvious differences to them, for example. The learner will then have to decide how they would act and react in such a context.

    It’s easier to do this by having a story board to map out each scene, then populate that with characters, dialogue and more specific settings. Having a very detailed script with multiple possible ramifications is also important in order to cover all aspects and be able to fully develop the plot.

  2. Case study scenarios

    If you think about it, case studies are generally not the most exciting thing to hear about. However, they can be very important when it comes to making a learning point so including them in courses is not optional. They manage to put everything in real-life context but also come with a high level of passive listening or reading about them and that hinders learner engagement and attention.

    Having a branching scenario made out of an existing case study puts everything in a completely different light. The trick is to find a case study that is complex enough to provide a solid storytelling foundation. Once you have that, there are a number of authoring tools available that can help with the development of a branching scenario.

  3. Personal anecdotes

    Have you ever noticed how if the words „based on a true story” appear at the start of a movie, the audience immediately feels that relevance has gone up? That is because experiences of real people help us connect to the stories and assign meaning to any outcome.

    Adults enroll in online courses because they seek to better themselves and overcome the challenges they face in their personal and professional lives. Presenting them accounts of others like them who shared those experiences and have valuable outputs will only increase the relevance and provide the necessary tools and tips necessary to take the information and apply it outside the virtual classroom.


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    However, it’s important to keep in mind that since it is an online course with various participants, going too deeply into the details of other people’s experiences can be awkward. Keep only what is integral to the learning process and shed unnecessary or private information.

  4. Fantasy tales rooted in the practical

    It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but a little fantasy can go a long way, especially when the topics tend to be a little arid and rooted in hard facts rather than fiction. The key is to develop a tall tale that can ultimately be easily traced back to its practical roots.

    For example, the story can be set in communities of the future, on far away planets and the characters may be incredibly far-fetched. Yet the challenges they face should be the ones that your course is aimed to help overcome. To continue my earlier example of developing interpersonal skills when met with diverse individuals, humanoids from the future might be confronted with a totally different indigenous alien population.

    One of the best perks of using tall tales is that they are memorable and tend to spark creativity and lateral thinking.

All in all

These are only a few examples of how storytelling can make your online course more engaging, entertaining and memorable. The possibilities are a lot more diverse, as is the case with all creative endeavors. You just have to let your imagination free.

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