When we want to tell something to someone, doing it through a story or an anecdote is an extraordinarily effective way to help retain information.

The art of storytelling

The transmission of information is only effective if we are able to awaken interest and provoke some kind of emotion in the person who receives it. Good communicators know it. And they also know that the best way to achieve it is through a good story. Because we all love a well-told story, a story that moves us and makes us attentive until the end.

Storytelling, or the art of telling stories, was born from the human being’s own intuition of communicating with their fellows. Already in the Middle Ages, in an environment where most of the population was illiterate and the few books that existed were the heritage of a few, troubadours narrated with music and poetry everything that happened and was worth telling.

Undoubtedly, many of our first memories go back to the stories and anecdotes of our elders, stories that we still remember. Following this concept, the success of many informative publications and programs is based on a speech full of memorable situations.

Storytelling is a well-known technique in Education, a resource that many teachers use regularly. Its application is based on the fundamental principle according to which, more important than the content itself, is the way how this content is transmitted by the expert and received by the students.

This educational technique uses narration to create a space where students can see their own experience reflected and, letting themselves go with this emotion, open up their interest and attention to what is being told. For this reason, storytelling can become an effective value proposal when it comes to achieving the main objective in the classroom: that students receive and retain knowledge.

The magic of storytelling

When we talk about storytelling in education, we do not talk about creating great stories or complicated plots. It is true that, for each case, it will be necessary to choose the most suitable solution. But it is always a good option to avoid complexity, to go for simplicity and clarity and include, of course, the essential ingredient: emotion.

Let's analyze the concept of “story that captures us” through an example that may be surprising, but that undoubtedly contains the essence of this technique: the joke.

Among the different types of stories, these little tales achieve, through the choice of tone –humor–, the construction of the characters in front of a situation and their dramatic arc –evolution and transformation–, and the management of the narration time –introduction, body and conclusion–, gain our attention, make us laugh, understand the content and remember its message and/or moral.

A short tale with a simple structure that, through a comic situation and an unexpected outcome, can lead us to an ethical or moral reflection, or simply to a life lesson.

It is true that, for many people, this double reading can go unnoticed. But it is also true that, skillfully transmitted and in the right environment, it can get many others (to whom that information and reflection, communicated in an “academic way”, would be unattractive), to retain it in their memory and incorporate it into their knowledge.

Let's move a bit further and take a look at the example of the lecturers at TED talks, experts in different subjects that, undoubtedly, can be defined as the greatest storytellers of our time.

When we see and listen to these "new 21st century troubadours" it is easy to see how, with greater or lesser intention, they adapt and make their own the structure used for a long time by comedy monologists who, through successive scenes, surfing among events, conflicts and/or finds, provide us with relevant information extracted from that fictionalized experience.

In short: models with narration time, dramatic arc and tone that make us remember what we have seen and heard, understand it easily and, from that moment on, incorporate it to our memory.

All of these are small examples of what we can do by telling stories that move us and gain our attention. The world of storytelling is immense and, ultimately, this is its magic. Its application in e-learning courses, when suitable, can help our students to learn better while enjoying the whole process.

Digital storytelling in the virtual classroom

There is no doubt that storytelling, properly integrated into e-learning, can be a powerful motivational tool. Let's see how to do it.

When we want to teach, for example, how to apply a certain process to a task and list the resources needed to carry it out, we can write a good theoretical content and deliver it to students so that they can read and memorize it, and have it prepared for its application in a future real case. A perfectly acceptable system.

But, as previously commented, there are other possibilities. We could also show this knowledge through the experience of some fictional characters, who carry out this task in a practical way, facing real problems and finding specific solutions. A speech in the form of a story that, most likely, will make the students understand and remember it much better, as stories come easier to most of us than data do.

An example can be found in the excellent French animated TV series from the 80s "Once upon a time ...Man", a great teaching material aimed at children that taught the origin of humanity and the most relevant events of our history in an enjoyable and close, but no less rigorous, format.

Beyond the academic information told in the third person, what is explained in the television series comes from its main character, the likeable and charming Maestro, and also from the rest of the characters such as Peter, Jumbo or Pierrette, among others. Step by step, chapter by chapter, and actively integrated into each plot, they are the ones who discover what we are supposed to learn.

Its tale structure and cartoon format helped us to assimilate, at that early age, everything that we will be infinitely grateful for when we become adults; we learned it well because we had fun learning.

Through multiple stories, great science communicators such as Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, Eduard Punset or Jacques Cousteau have taught us science and nature. We also find an example in Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and his wolves, named Sibila and Remo, whom he carefully followed with his camera in their daily life, showing us through their story both their habits and the natural environment where they lived in.

All these stories remain in our memory and, even though over time we do not remember some of the details, what we still remember is the way to search and find them. This is because, back on that day, we received the information through exciting stories that are what remains in our memories and in our hearts.

Learning is a task that requires effort. Sometimes, it is difficult and we can find it hard. Facilitating this process makes everything easier and more effective. Nowadays, the wise words of Aristotle “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” make more sense than ever. Without a doubt, what we learn with our heart, and not only “by heart”, stays with us forever and, in many cases, the storytelling technique is an excellent way to achieve it.


We need to connect with the participants in our training programs, get their attention and drum up their interest. And we need to know how to do it in order to avoid what we cannot afford: That these participants drop the course.

Therefore, it is important to remember:

  • When trying to communicate with someone, the reception of the message only is effective if we are able to arise excitement and interest in those who we are addressing to. 
  • Making it through a story or anecdote, thus recreating a memorable situation, is an extremely effective formula that allows us to improve understanding of what we try to explain and make its memory last.
  • If you are thinking of a new e-learning course for the continuous learning of your company or organization, do not forget that, most likely, a correct application of the storytelling technique may help you.

Magí del Campo

Magí is a Training Coordinator, trainer, designer and audiovisual producer. He is a partner and head of the training area at Futura Training & Consulting, an Opentrends teaching content company. Furthermore, he works on projects for the transformation and adaptation of corporate content, both technical and technological, with the aim of providing the user with an attractive, easy and direct language.