Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Employing Story Structure and Dynamics to Engage Different Learners - Tip #39

Now that we know what types of learners we are likely to face, it becomes clearer how we can improve the way we create and use stories in our learning objectives.

Storytelling and Interactive Stories - The Difference

Our focus in Story-Based Learning Design is to emphasize the aspects of Interactive Stories.

What is the difference between Storytelling and Interactive Stories? While these are both rooted in the elements that make up a good story, Storytelling focuses on the "telling" or the "narration" (like our grandparents' bedtime stories) and Interactive Stories focus on encouraging readers and participants to "become part of the story." Interactive Stories are best employed in synchronous and asynchronous learning.  

Foundations and Structure of Stories

As a review of the basic foundations of stories, let us take a quick look at what happens within each element of a story:

1.    Exposition

"Parker was a health department employee at City Hall. Having worked there for nearly 5 years, he now needs a big-impact, low-budget project to get promoted to Assistant Department Head."

The beginning usually sets up the basic details of the story setting. We find out where and when it takes place, and who the characters are. These are the basic things that give the story a shape.

2.    Conflict

"He noticed that people in the City have the habit of drinking from water fountains by putting the fountain spout completely inside their mouths. This has been the cause of contamination and the fast spread of disease. How can Parker solve this problem?"

Now things get more interesting. There's trouble, suspense, choices need to be made, emotions run high and there is a problem to be solved.

3.    Rising Action

"Parker got to work, interviewing citizens, conducting experiments, assigning guards to each water fountain within a 5 km. radius of City Hall, designing contraptions that will stop people from coming too close every time they take a sip. Each idea was more complicated than the last and he was running out of time."

Our characters are now in full-motion, doing things, finding solutions. Getting to the bottom of the conflict and creating a way out of it. In the process there is revelation, development and growth.

4.    Climax

"He realised he was looking at the water fountain problem the wrong way. The next day, in front of the City Health Council, he proudly unveiled the Amazing Spoutless Fountain. Removing the spout meant there was nothing there to put your mouth on. It was cheap, it was simple, and it was brilliant."

This is the highest point of the story, the moment the audience has been waiting for. The climax stirs the highest emotional response, built up from the tension and suspense of the Rising Action.

5.    Denouement

"Parker felt good about his idea, and the Council gave it their full support. And even better, he found a new way of looking at challenging situations. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, but it takes a ton of hard work to get there."

Endings are more than just a closing to a story. This is where loose ends are tied, explanations are made, and a final solution and outcome is laid out for the characters.

What goes on inside the Structure of a Story?

As simple as our story is, we can actually see how it is a well-built narrative, based on the seven elements of a good story:

Illustration from Story Impacts ebook

How is this applicable and useful to our Learner Types?

This is how each learner type interacts with the story.

Imaginative learners can relate to the emotional struggles of the characters. They empathize with difficult choices and are able to see things from the character's point of view, which makes the story all the more real and relatable.

These learners interact with the story emotionally.

Methodical learners are detail-oriented. They take on the facts of the story: what happened, who are these characters, what do they want and what needs to be done?
These learners interact with story by discovery.

Problem-solvers can look at this story and pick out the discoveries and resolutions that make the most sense in real life. They take fiction, and turn it into pragmatic ideas that they can use.

These learners interact with the story to satisfy their curiosity.

Creative learners would be more likely to say "If it were me, I would..." and offer alternate solutions that challenge the story and bring out other perspectives. They will ask questions and challenge details which means their interest is high and are keen to invest more time in the discussion.

These learners interact with the story by "travelling" into a different future with different outcomes or imagining other possible options.


Stories need to have a structure that appeals and excites different kinds of learner types. Interactive Storytelling takes good stories to the next level, by encouraging involvement and building a connection among learners.

Take time to look at the stories you use and see if you have the complete elements that will engage your audience.


Tip #10: How to Teach Very Complex Ideas with Story-Based eLearning Scenarios

Tip #38: Making Learning Styles Come Alive in Interactive Stories

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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