Making Learners Cry by Using Positive Stories – Tip #37

Share this article

It is easier to find negative stories and use them for learning purposes. There are plenty in our daily lives. Some examples would be accidents, fiascos, errors and blunders. Although negative by nature, using errors as lessons is one way of learning. 

What is difficult to find, on the other hand, are moving and positive stories. What is even more challenging is using them in learning design without appearing or sounding corny or frivolous.

I believe we can move learners to tears, touch them emotionally and spiritually to help them see a lesson. How do we accomplish this? By making them part of a human story.

This video “The First Date” with the father and daughter made me teary-eyed

When I saw “The First Date”, I was struck by how many of us often fail to express love and affection to our loved ones. It reminded me that, at work, there are many souls who depend on me, as a leader, for their inspiration and means of livelihood. In many situations I fail to extend to them support, understanding and warmth.

Preview “The First Date” and be moved by this human story.

Click here to see the video story

Stories that affect values and beliefs

Positive and moving stories like that of “The First Date” aim at the emotional core of the learner. They focus on affecting values, beliefs and attitudes. Values are often less obvious or not outwardly spoken about in organizations. They are deeply rooted in people’s experiences. That is why it is difficult to develop stories that are positive and moving. In work-related stories where incidents are obvious and openly discussed, it is easier to find illustrations and stories. 

In Illustration 1, I explained that in Story-Based Learning Design, we use real-life incidents and turn them into stories. Then we ask story questions. This is the process on how we convert content into interactive stories. The pyramid suggests that in the areas of values, there are a lot more data, experiences or knowledge stored in our memories. Whereas, in areas of work, there are fewer experiences since they are more recent. That is why our childhood memories are stronger than our last sales meeting.

Depending on whether we are addressing work or values, the types of real-life incidents, stories and story questions change. 

See Illustration 1 for more explanations.

Illustration 1

Positive moving stories that are used are usually about both, a personal testimonial and sharing of a personal experience. If the story is not personal, it will likely fail in moving the learner. In work-related stories, the stories often employ different meanings, such as, best practices, lessons learned, turnaround, etc. Both values and work stories aim in adding meaning and context to the real-life events and facts of the stories.

Why use personal story questions?

To leverage a positive moving story, we add a personal type of story question before and after the story. Story questions aim to pull the learner into the story. The questions are personal to help the learner reflect and apply the story on a personal level. See illustration 2, “The Apartment Manager Story.”

When I first saw this video, “The Apartment Manager”, I viewed it from the manager’s perspective, the pain that she as a child and her family went through because they were discriminated. It made me feel very thankful that there is a Fair Housing law that protects everyone.

Preview the video below and see another human story.
Pulling in learners into moving positive stories

In Illustrations 2 and 3, we summarized the structure of the two stories.

Illustration 2

Illustration 3

This is the summary of ideas

  1. Create, copy, borrow or develop positive moving stories – you can script and develop your own or find online references. A client, CallSource loaned us the “The Apartment Manager” and borrowed “The First Date” from YouTube.
  2. Select the highest emotional aspect of the video – this is where you touch and move the learner. Use short and small videos as the centerpiece of your video.
  3. Add story questions – before and after the story to allow learners to interact or be pulled into the story. Story question ensures the learner becomes part of the story. By asking story questions you help the learners to apply the ideas from the video into their real-life situation.


Using positive moving stories need not be costly and a difficult process. Seek for the highest emotional experience. Pull the learner to interact and apply the ideas by asking them story questions. 

I learn a lot from my own personal anguish and triumphs. I learn a lot when I am most human.


Tip #1 – When “ERRORS” are powerful eLearning devices

Tip #19 – Incidents of errors as basis for technical learning design

Tip #20 – Weaving Stories and Factual Content for Seamless Lessons

Ray Jimenez, PhD

Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”