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How Can You Use Storytelling to Improve Learning and Development?

Learning and development is as much an art as it is a science.  You’re not just trying to transmit information, you’re trying to teach principles, ideas, concepts, and ways of thinking.  In order to do this effectively, you have to understand human psychology.  

We are storytelling creatures.  We learn by example.

Compelling stories are how we’ve shared information and experience with each other since the beginning of time.  And while we tend to associate storytelling with artistic endeavors, it actually permeates every part of our culture – and it should play a role in your learning and development efforts.  If you are able to translate the concepts you’re trying to communicate into good stories, you’ll find that they are retained much more effectively, and they can be applied in the real world more precisely.

Stories hold the attention of employees much better than pure data or bland slides.  They speak to principles that can be generalized and applied to solve problems in the real world.  Here are some key things to think about when using storytelling in your L&D initiatives:

  • Keep them short.  There’s no need to go overboard with your stories – focus only on what matters and craft short stories that get to the point without fluff.  This is how you’ll hold the attention of those you’re training and get the right message across efficiently.
  • Make them relatable.  Be aware of the audience you’re speaking to and be sure to use relatable stories that are easy to understand.  Stories can connect us when they are pertinent to our background and circumstances – so be sure to leverage that to your advantage.
  • Practice.  Storytelling, like any other skill, takes practice.  Don’t be scared to try a number of different things and see what works.  With practice, you’ll get better at crafting stories that are compelling and information dense – so you can make the most of your learning and development opportunities.

Here are some examples of companies who have leveraged the power of storytelling to great effect in their L&D programs:

  • Microsoft recognized that their compliance training was both incredibly important and very boring.  So they set out to change that by creating a fictional TV series that included four 7-9 minute episodes that dramatized the concepts they were trying to teach.  It led to significant improvements in performance and uptake of the training.
  • Drury Hotels filmed day-in-the-life videos for each of their departments: housekeeping, maintenance, guest services, laundry, food and beverage, and the lobby bar – which were incredibly effective in humanizing the people working there and storytelling around the key concepts and values that the company was trying to transmit to those being trained.
  • Measures for Justice, a non-profit organization working on criminal justice reform were able to drastically improve their onboarding process by dividing the material into eight different training modules with each one being based around a story.  This proved much more compelling than what was in place previously and it made a big difference to their employee upskilling.

As you can see, storytelling is a really powerful tool that can take your learning and development initiatives to the next level if you do it well.  It takes a bit more effort of course, but the improvements you’ll see in information retention and skill development will be more than worth it.  It should definitely be something you add to your armory.

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