Learning Through Storytelling

How many times during a training session do you use a story to illustrate a point? If your answer is never you might want to consider adding storytelling as a powerful way to reinforce learning.

The art of storytelling traces back to prehistoric times and it’s legacy remains even today through cave paintings, art, and even oral history. I often hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady wins the race.” Everyone remembers the story of the tortoise and the hare. No matter how many decades go by, no matter how many languages you learn, no matter how many degrees you earn…a well told story will stay with you for life.

Today I had the privilege to attend a workshop at ImaginOn called “The Power of Storytelling” presented by Dr. Rebecca Isbell, director of the Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development at East Tennessee State University.

Though this workshop was geared for library staff and educators who work primarily with children, I found that much of what I learned applied to working with adult learners as well.

Why use stories? Stories help learners to…

  • Remember and reinforce key points and concepts.
  • Give meaning and deeper understanding to a new concept or skill.
  • Stay awake! How many times have you ever been in a workshop where you had to pinch yourself to stay awake?
  • Make learning fun! I wrote this quote down from Dr. Isbell today during the workshop, “Learning should be joyful–not painful.” I know that my 4-year-old son loves learning. What if we could always inspire that passion for our learners?

I recently attended a customer service workshop and the facilitator told a wonderful story about the Lincoln Memorial Mystery. The story illustrates why it is so important to not just accept the way things appear on the surface and why we need to look at a bigger picture. The facilitator could have just told us that this was important, but using a story to teach the concept really helped to transfer and retain the learning. Not to mention it made a three hour workshop not as dry and boring as it could have been.

Some tips for getting started with storytelling:

  • If you think you are not a storyteller, think again. We’ve all shared a story of an interaction with a patron or a bad driver.
  • Build a good repository of stories. You can adapt the same story and use it over and over with different audiences just make sure it is relevant.
  • You must love the story! You may become identified by this story so be sure to choose one that you like.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Work on pace, pauses, and inflections.
  • Try the story out on a friend.
  • It’s ok to make mistakes!

This quote from Dr. Isbell sums up the importance of storytelling, “Storytelling is an interaction between teller and listener. It ultimately becomes a mutual creation.”

For us as trainers I would add that it becomes a mutual learning experience.