The Only Story Structure You’ll Need in Designing Story-based eLearning – Workshop Tip #236

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Roger Schank couldn’t have said it any better, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”

As instructional designers and trainers, knowing how to best present lessons with complex, data-driven information, or sensitive yet necessary workplace issues can spell a difference in terms of learner engagement, motivation, and real work impacts.

In developing a story-based elearning program or lesson, keep in mind the importance of having a  structure. This does not refer to the rigid “structure” that formal learning is known for, but to a story structure. It is about following a clear path that will lead to learning discoveries and reflection. A well-structured story-lesson or program facilitates an easier, faster, and more meaningful learning process for the learners.

The story development template is a great tool to guide instructional designers and trainers in building a solid, coherent, engaging story-lesson.

Click here to download

Here are key things to remember when applying the story development template:

1. Every aspect of the story — characters, setting, conflict, ending — is intentional. Each is selected to serve a common purpose. Keep it short but impactful. It all should lead to the fulfillment of your specific learning objectives.

2. It has to be relatable. The challenges or conflicts presented in the story-lesson should be in tune with actual situations that most, if not all, people can easily relate to or draw their personal experiences. With learners being able to identify themselves with the predicament of the characters or the complexities of the situation is how you start and build engagement.

3. Context is key. No matter how visually appealing or emotion-filled your story is if it fails to build the right context, it is useless and a waste of time and resources. In his book, Roger Schank mentioned how people have difficulty remembering abstractions, rules of thumb, facts, and figures. But tell them a good compelling and relevant story and they can re-tell it in a heartbeat. Ensure that the story-lesson will provide clarity on this specific learners’ question – “How is this relevant to me or to the job I do?”


Roger C. Schank (1995). “Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence”

Helen Barrett and Jonathon Richter: Reflection4Learning

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”