The Power of Storytelling: Incorporate Human’s Earliest Teaching Tool into your Online Courses

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Put learning into context and engage your learners with both instructor- and student-generated stories!  Learn how students of all ages can benefit from online content which is presented in story form.


Jane currently works at the University of Utah as the Instructional Designer for the College of Nursing. Prior to this, she worked as the Content Lead for Powerspeak Languages, creating the 40-hour ESL for Spanish Speakers online program, used in the American public library system. She has also worked as an instructional designer for Pearson Education and for the government of Mexico, creating digital ESL material for the K-12 population. Jane has 15 years' classroom experience teaching higher-ed ESL courses at the University of Utah, University of Texas, and ELS in Seoul, South Korea. In her free time, Jane plays French horn with the Salt Lake Symphonic Winds and manages the Legacy Winds Quintet.

Extended Abstract

Researchers have begun to validate what folks have known instinctively for thousands of years:  there’s nothing like a good story to engage the listener and promote concept retention.  In business presentations, the speaker is encouraged to spark the audience’s interest by starting out with a story.  Articles in the news often begin with a story, putting the news in context and giving the reader a sense of connection with the news event.  Likewise, in an online course, the use of storytelling can be an effective way for instructors to link discrete concepts and enhance the students’ holistic views of a given topic.  Similarly, student-generated stories encourage the learner to weave course concepts into a cohesive whole, allowing the instructor to assess the student’s comprehension of the concepts presented.


This session will begin with examples of the power of storytelling, and a brief small-group discussion of the participants' personal experiences with learning through storytelling.  Next will be a presentation discussing recent research findings on the effects of storytelling on learner outcomes, followed by a demonstration of how the University of Utah incorporated storytelling in a freshman-level World Regional Geography course.  This online course covers twelve areas of the world, divided into twelve course modules.  Each module begins with a story, depicting a day's journey of a fictional character.  Module videos cover five concepts influenced by the region’s geography:  religion, economy, music, architecture and language.  The video stories are designed as an introduction to the region of the world and help the student relate the five concepts to one another.  Additional items in the module refer back to the video story, further solidifying the concepts in the memory of the student.  


For the course’s final collaborative project, the students are randomly divided into groups to create their own video.  Together, they choose an area of the world of interest to them.  The students then develop their own story describing an event in the life of a fictional person, based on the examples they have experienced in the course and their own research.  Although tutorials on using Google Earth and other free technology are integrated into the course, the students are allowed to choose the most appropriate methods and technologies to create their own video projects.  The instructor assesses these videos on thoroughness and accuracy of the five required concepts. Finally, the groups post their videos to a discussion board for the other students to view and critique.


The course demonstration will be followed by a brief Q&A session.  Participants will then have an opportunity to explore possibilities in using storytelling in their own courses, regardless of the age or technology level of their students, through small-group discussions.  Participants will offer each other their own experiences in using storytelling as a teaching tool, and will brainstorm realistic ways storytelling could be incorporated into their own LMS.  Handouts will be provided.


Session Outcomes:  At the conclusion, participants will

  • be familiar with current research on the power of storytelling in student comprehension of new concepts and retention of information

  • understand how storytelling can be used as both a teaching and an assessment tool in online courses

  • envision possibilities for incorporating storytelling into their own courses