Some of life’s greatest lessons are delivered via stories. How can you use their power?

Tell the truth. Help those in need. Be kind to others. Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Never give up. Many a storied lesson has left its imprint.

Why tell stories?

Stories grab, move, shake, and wake us. Creating a sense that things are not as they seem. That consequences are imminent. We crave anticipation. The reason? Dopamine. Our pleasure/reward system is activated. It’s exhilarating, creating an investment in what happens next. All true. But also, stories are more easily remembered than other forms of information. As developmental psychologist Roger Schank explains, “stories form the framework and structure through which humans sort, understand, relate, and file experience into memory.” While there’s growing interest in how to effectively apply storytelling techniques within a learning context… the reality is that storytelling has been an effective educational tool for quite some time. We’re primed for stories – it’s in our DNA.

As neuroscience reveals, what draws us into a story and keeps us there is the firing of our dopamine neurons, signaling that intriguing information is on its way. Having our curiosity piqued is visceral. Once curiosity is roused, we have an emotional, vested interest in finding out what happens next.

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence



Stories help us to:

  • relate to others with experiences similar to our own
  • understand perspectives entirely different than ours
  • experience what could happen if we did the opposite of what we know we should do – without directly experiencing the consequences.

What is digital interactive storytelling?

Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience suggests the more senses Learners use, the more active their engagement in the learning process, and the more they will remember. Digital interactive stories provide a multi-sensory experience, combining sound, visuals, videos, and motion graphics. Highly immersive, they make Learners feel as if they are a part of the story. Virtual/augmented reality amplifies this experience.

Interactive stories are especially powerful when they engage the heart, describing the narrator’s personal experience. Sobering and sometimes emotional, they are often used to bring attention to humanitarian atrocities. Although disturbing, the hope is that people will be moved by the circumstances others have experienced and be compelled to take action.

Here are three approaches for successful storytelling:

1. Begin with gusto and get to the point.

From that first sentence, readers morph into bloodhounds, relentlessly trying to sniff out what is at stake here and how it will impact the protagonist (or them). There has to be a ball already in play. Not the preamble to the ball. Not all the stuff you have to know to really understand the ball. The ball itself. This is not to say the first ball must be the main ball. It can be the initial ball or even a starter ball. But, on that first page, it has to feel like the only ball and it has to have our complete attention.

– Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story


It doesn’t take us long to quickly assess whether we want to invest our time in something. When flipping channels, TV remote in hand, we may only pause a moment. A split second decision is made about whether we’re in or we’re moving on. If your training is mandatory, your Learners likely have no choice in whether they “tune in to the program”. But, they will apply the same discriminatory technique – scanning for what is relevant, important, and engaging. To grab their immediate attention, we must cut the clutter. Keep the content minimal and specific to only what is necessary. Then, present it with interest.

2. Include an experience they may not wish to have.

Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them.

– Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist and Harvard Professor


Through story, we experience, relate, and connect with the events that the characters confront, the emotions they feel, and the lessons they learn. Stories expose what could happen if we did the opposite of what we should do. We accompany the protagonist facing his or her challenges as if they are our own, sharing in the experience and learning from the consequences. As Writer Lisa Cron explains: “Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them.”

3. Tease it, leave them wanting more.

Nothing focuses the mind like surprise. We crave that feeling that something out of the ordinary is happening. We crave that notion that we’ve come in at a crucial juncture in someone’s life, and not a moment too soon. What intoxicates us in the hint that not only is trouble brewing, but it’s longstanding and about to reach critical mass.

– Sarah Lehrer, Neuroscience Writer


Hook them in the beginning with a heightened experience. Then, hold their attention. Don’t lose them with excess. Provide enough interest to compel them to continue through to the end. Consider the strategies used by Netflix and other TV series. Similar to episodes (or chapters in a book) give Learners the autonomy to decide just how much they will consume in one sitting. Create bite-size learning. Those who want to binge, will do so. Others may prefer to return again and as a result find it more palatable.