Home > Similarities between Course Design and Magic (!) > The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #7: Storytelling

The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #7: Storytelling

Storytelling has a role in instructional design, and also magic. Ken Weber says, “Talk in colour, not black and white”.

I am not necessarily talking about long-winded, drawn out stories designed to justify the magician boring their spectator(s) to death, but a description of something – illustrated magically, rather than the “…now I’m doing this, now I’m going to do that…” presentations often seen on YouTube. That said, proper “old-fashioned” storytelling can be great fun, as seen in the wonderful trick by Guy Hollingsworth “Once Upon a Time”.

A lot of learning (classroom and online) also suffers from “Now we do this, now we do that….” design.

In eLearning, (in fact, I would argue for ANY type of learning), you need a “story”, i.e. the course needs to have a flowing structure. You need to have objectives, some sort of “middle” which resolves something, or several things, and then a conclusion or “Call to Action” at the end. Most training is really just a variation on this theme, and it is why the Design Document is so important, (which I will cover in a later blog).

I have seen a lot of eLearning where the obligatory “Objectives” slide (resplendent with bullet points…) has nothing in common with the “Summary” slide at the end of the course; an effect that is amplified in multi-module courses.

Above all, and this is so obvious it is so often forgotten…..you need to remember what the point of the learning is. i.e. set your learning Objectives appropriately, and do not try to “boil the ocean”. Cover what can be covered effectively, and no more. If you have too much to teach, split it up into digestible portions, and deploy accordingly.

Stick like glue to your intended objectives. Everything you say or write needs to link back to these in some way. Your course needs to progress in compelling steps – you need to create your course so that you give your viewer a reason, at every step, to want to go to the next slide or section. They must want to know the answer to the question “What happens next?

Make every breath and word count. To be a  great Instructional Designer – study the skills of Hans Christian Andersen and Stephen King.

  1. October 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Hey Bruce,

    I couldn’t agree with you more! My roots lie in comics and cartooning and I use many of the same skills in eLearning design similar to a magician’s presentation skills. My storyboarding experience is when it was referred to as a true “story”board (hence the origin of the word), when a designer visually mapped out how the story was going to flow.

    There is no difference in designing the flow of instruction in eLearning in my view. You have a story to tell. Whether it’s annual compliance training, product knowledge, or an awareness program, there is always a story to be told. It’s also proven that when a learner is told a story either led by a narrator or on their own path, they “belong” to the story and want to interact with it – to your point of them “wanting” to go to the next slide/screen.

    Good stuff! Enjoying reading this series!


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