Teaching Through Stories
The best teachers were storytellers. Jesus Christ, arguably the greatest teacher of all time, taught his disciples through parables. Even the Bible, both the old and new testaments, are collected volumes of stories. Aesop taught lessons through his famous fables. And of course, we need not go farther. Our early lessons as children were taught to us by our parents through bedtime stories. These teachers used scenes, metaphors, and events that are part of their audience’s environment and realm of experiences. Jesus would use a lot of agricultural and farming references because he was talking to farmers, fishermen, and even shepherds. Aesop would use animals as characters because he probably thought kids would love them. And of course, our parents would create scenes that are very much familiar to us because they knew exactly what would scare us.
Storytelling is one of, if not the most effective pedagogical tool. It disarms the stubborn and closed-minded because it never begins with an argument. It attacks emotion, which is more vulnerable than reason and belief. It employs images and scenes, which are easier and faster to retain and absorb. And of course, stories are participative and vicariously experiential, and in a way, interactive. Which makes it more effective as a teaching tool.
To maximize storytelling as a teaching tool for your L&D Programs, let’s glean some “how’s” from the “why’s” we listed above:
Know your audience. Be familiar with their environment, their general domain, their experiences. Learn their vocabulary. Know what resonates with them. No need to be too specific. But you can’t be too generic either. Share more family-oriented stories if your audiences are mostly parents. Use relevant popular culture references if your audiences are young enough. Use metaphors that they have easy access to so they can relate easier.
Always begin with a relatable character and not a solid argument. You are teaching, not competing in a debate. A relatable character always disarms the listener because he knows he is here to listen to a story and not to be told what to do. Once the audiences find themselves in the protagonist, it becomes easy to make them realize what they need to learn. Approach your audience through their emotions, and you do that by making them feel for your protagonist.
Keep your stories visual. There are writing exercises that can help a storyteller become more concrete and accurate with his narrative. Draw pictures using words. Create scenes that they can watch in their heads. Make the suffering and pain of the protagonist very palpable. Make the audience feel what the protagonist feels by offering to them the painful choices your protagonist must make. This helps create an unforgettable experience for your audience, which will surely help them retain lessons more effectively.
These things make your story more immersive and interactive. Educators, trainors, and even psychologists agree that learning is faster if the learner gleans the lesson from experience, drawing his own insight. The best way to make this happen is by telling a good story and making the learner immerse themselves in it.