Skip to content

How to Make Your Learner the Hero of the Story

Blog posts | 06.04.2021

Layla Croll

Senior Lead Learning Designer at

You’ve got learning aims to achieve and business outcomes to deliver – but what does that matter to your learner? Layla Croll suggests we should make the learner the hero of your story for much better engagement

Storytelling makes a connection between a person and an idea.

Learning conveyed as a story transforms dry facts into human, contextual and emotional connections with information.

Why are TED talks so compelling? Because each speaker frames their information around a personal journey and takes you with them. They are told with honesty and often involve the speaker having overcome hardship in order to give you the idea they are proposing. It only takes a few minutes to learn something completely new watching a TED talk. By giving you the human context behind the idea, they save an hours' worth of talking at you trying to convey the full historical background behind the ‘why’ of their information or their new concept.

So, how can you do this?

Involve the learner.

Not every story has to be a TED talk. Start by simply involving the learner in your design. Tell stories they can relate to and put their learning into context. This could be as simple as framing a concept within a commonplace event that they are likely to encounter or have encountered at work that involves the subject, then asking what they would do next.

This type of decision making involves a deeper thought process than choosing the right answer to a factual, hypothetical question. This leads to deeper learning involving applying facts to a new situation.

It also makes them the lead character in your story, making them feel like you’re talking to them.

You can also use storytelling to bust myths and highlight misconceptions. A common example being that colleagues may think that ‘someone else’ is responsible for compliance or cyber security. Putting them at the heart of the issue helps them to face their misconceptions and understand how knowledge of compliance or security is something they need and not just a box-ticking exercise.

Quick wins for storytelling.

So, how can we incorporate storytelling in learning?

Learning designers will always spend time with your experts to unpick and understand the ‘why’ behind your subject. Workshopping is a great way to uncover the light bulb moments, the stories behind your learning outcomes. Lay out your facts, then talk about how they apply to real life or a fictional situation. There are many ways to incorporate storytelling, but here are a few examples.

I’m a fan of using selfie-style videos to convey storytelling in digital learning. When the story is compelling and authentic, you don’t necessarily need high production values. I have worked with clients to guide and help colleagues to create their own short, engaging stories using mobiles to record and they’ve been effective in meeting the learning goals. They key is that the stories are relatable and authentic. If you have at your fingertips a host of experts in effective leadership and management, there to help you create a course, use them! Ask them what they would tell their younger selves if they could, ask them to tell you about their proudest moment as a manager. Every expert has an anecdote, they have experience and knowledge, and video stories can be a powerful way of conveying in 2 minutes what would normally take the learner an hour of reading in-depth articles.

I’ve mentioned scenario-based quizzes, and these are a proven method of encouraging critical thinking and deeper learning. Work with a learning designer to talk through when, in a normal working day, your learners might need to put their knowledge into practice. Try and surprise them with tricky decisions and introduce elements such as a customer request that is against the rules, to really challenge them.

In-depth storytelling approaches.

You could decide to design your entire learning program around a story, a set of characters or a journey.

Use a character or characters to guide the learner through every chapter, introducing and summing up and being placed in scenarios. This builds investment and empathy as the learner gets to know the character and wants to help them.

You could deliver the training wholly from the learner's perspective, placing them in a step-by-step journey through an induction course, for example. You could film video sequences as if the camera is looking out through your learners' eyes, meeting new people and being shown around the building.

Learner-led design = deeper learning

Seeing the learning from the learner's point of view and helping them to see how it’s relevant will lead to better outcomes and higher engagement. Storytelling is a great and simple way to design with your learners at the heart. Making them the hero of their own story can help them to empathise, encourage critical thinking and make it easier for them to apply their new knowledge.

Layla Croll

Senior Lead Learning Designer at

Layla has experience working with a diverse range of clients to create effective, engaging and highly-rated digital learning experiences. With a passion for encouraging active participation in learners, Layla specialises in social learning design and using video for storytelling.