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How teaching with stories can enhance the joy of learning

Humans are storytelling creatures. We are hardwired to seek out stories to help us absorb information and connect it with our experiences. A 2010 study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that when speakersengaged students by imparting important material throughcompelling stories, they reached listeners both emotionally and biochemically.

This method increased the potential for successful communication and greater understanding. If you want to get your audience’s attention, use stories.

First, create a platform that listeners can use to interact with and comment on the lesson at hand. This provides a stronger connection between you and your audience and gives audience members who don’t normally participate the opportunity to share their personal experiences in response to the stories you tell.

I’ll Share a Story to Make My Point

Everybody around me is lost. We’ve been sitting here for five hours. The person leading our training has no intention of doing anything but talking. She keeps repeating this phrase: “Okay? So far so good?” She’s asked us not to touch the computer while she talks.

I’m stuck. What do I do? People seem to be listening. Are they really okay with this? Am I the only one who feels trapped? Not at all. In the meantime, we sit for five hours in silence, assumedly “learning.”

My mind starts wandering again, and this time with a hint of outrage: Here we are, 12 professionals with a little extra time on our hands, and it’s being wasted. Am I oversensitive, or is she insulting our intelligence? She just repeated, “Okay? So far so good?” I might explode.

Someone raises their hand and asks a question. “We’re not there yet,” the presenter responds.  Good! I hope this means we’re going somewhere and that she does have a plan. Unfortunately, it seems like she’s not where we are. Maybe she wasn’t given enough information about us or our existing level of knowledge about the subject. Maybe it’s not her fault. I really need to learn these skills for my job. Okay, I’ll try to concentrate.

Now we’re supposed to do an exercise. I don’t know which page we’re on. Should I ask?

Everyone is silent, and I don’t know the name of the person sitting next to me. In the middle of 12 people, I feel lonely. The presenter said the software is a “different paradigm”. What’s a paradigm doing in our training? She talks about her work. One trainee makes a comment, and small talk starts, totally unrelated to the subject at hand. I flip through the pages of the thick manual the presenter gave us. She starts talking again. I wonder when I will learn this material.

Later I hear her talking on her cell phone during a break. Did she really say “training is going well?”

I keep clicking on the desktop and decide to give it a try. I manage to do something. Will it be right? Am I totally off? Maybe she’s right, and I don’t have what it takes to learn this. Didn’t she mention earlier that she’s been using this software for 10 years? Or 20? Maybe 30! Maybe this class is not for my level. I don’t know what I should do.

She asks us to do another exercise. I hear her tell someone that it will take time for us to learn this. Then shouldn’t I start as soon as possible? She asks if anyone has questions. I wouldn’t know where to begin. All I know for certain is what I’ll write on the evaluation form: “There was a person constantly talking and disrupting the class. Unfortunately, that person was the instructor.”

Rediscover the Joy of Learning

Have you ever been in this class? What happened in this class for the trainee? What happened in this class for the instructor? What’s their perspective? Reflect on your own training experiences—have you ever taught this way? How did it happen?

Story-driven learning might be the oldest—and most effective—form of education. If you can become an excellent storyteller, you’ll give students an opportunity not only to discover the facts, but also to more meaningfully understand the impact those facts have on their lives. Ultimately, teaching with stories can enhance the joy of learning.

Interested in reading more about the best way to reach your audience? Take a look at the rest of our blog.