Story-Driven Learning: A Workshop in 5 Acts

Workshop Session 1

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Brief Abstract

Want to bring your online course content to life with real, relatable, and relevant stories? Join expert storytellers, learning designers, and instructors on a journey to develop a story-driven approach for designing online learning experiences that keep learners coming back for more!


Jennifer is Senior Manager of Learning Design for Strayer University, where she partners with instructional designers, faculty, filmmakers, and producers to infuse Strayer's curriculum with episodic, academic content that keeps online learners coming back for more. With over 16 years of experience developing adult-centered online programs, Jennifer knows what drives online student success— learning experiences that connect academic content to learners’ own lives through realistic, relatable, and relevant examples. Prior to Strayer, Jennifer managed e-learning initiatives and operations for public and private institutions of higher education. She has led the development of solutions focused on scaling instructional design processes using Lean and project management principles while building infrastructures to keep pace with the evolving state of online higher education. Jennifer earned a BA in Corporate Communication from Marietta College, an MAEd in Adult Education and Distance Learning from the University of Phoenix, and a PhD in Educational Leadership from The University of Dayton. She is also a graduate of the Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Education and a Quality Matters Peer Reviewer.

Extended Abstract

Story (narrative) provides a structure for sharing information in ways that engage receivers, enhance memory, and create meaning (Haven, 2007). Humans are hard-wired to use story as an organization and storage mechanism. Consequently, we remember facts gained through story much more effectively than through any other means.


Story is a powerful method for engaging students with course content, especially in an online learning environment, where establishing personal connections between learners, content, and the instructor is an ongoing challenge. It solidifies the purpose of instruction and increases the sense of connectedness (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), which ultimately builds online learner confidence. A great story also gives learners an opportunity to relate to the material on an emotional level. Learners are more likely to remember a lesson when key points are embedded in a heartwarming story about someone who overcame obstacles or experienced a transformation in life. Empathizing with a character helps to cement that story-- and the associated information-- within the learner’s memory (Haven, 2007).


We are partnering expert storytellers, learning designers, and instructors to guide participants on a journey to develop their own story-driven learning experiences. At the end of this pre-conference workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the elements of a story-driven learning experience

  • State the benefits and potential challenges of creating a story-driven learning experience for online delivery

  • Create a story plan for an online learning experience.

Note: To optimize learning in this hands-on workshop, please bring a syllabus for a course of your choosing and a laptop or other mobile device.



Introduction (10 minutes)
Facilitators kick off with a story-driven introduction and overview of the workshop. Participants will experience the use of story as a hook into learning.

  • Introductions (presented in story format)

  • Poll questions to check audience background and familiarity with story-driven learning

  • Objectives, agenda, and expectations

Introduction to Story-Driven Learning (15 minutes)
Working in small groups, participants will complete an activity designed to rapidly introduce story-driven learning. Participants will review a sample story-driven lesson, respond to prompts, and summarize their findings for share out.


What Is Story? (30 minutes)
Interactive presentation and guided practice that draws from findings in the previous activity.

  • What Is Story?  (Historical and theoretical connections)

  • What Makes a Great Story?

  • The Elements of Story

  • Guided Practice -- Identifying a Story Arc


Creating Story-Driven Learning Experiences (30 minutes)
Facilitators will lead an interactive presentation on the process for creating story-driven learning experiences.

  • How We Do It

    • The Core Team

    • Backward Design Approach

    • Modalities

    • Process Highlights

  • When and Where to Use Story (Course Flow)

  • Before You Begin: Key Considerations


Break(10 minutes)


DIY: Creating the Story Plan (60 minutes)
Using a template (story plan), participants will create a high-level story outline and learning experience for a course of their choosing. Facilitators will promote working in small groups to simulate the brainstorming and blue-sky thinking that yields great instructional stories.


Story-Driven Learning in Context (15 minutes)
Participants will  draw from their workshop experiences to engage in a facilitated discussion addressing:

  • Benefits, challenges, and barriers to creating and using story-driven learning experiences in online courses

  • Tips and techniques for overcoming the challenges or barriers

  • Ideas for implementing a story plan


Wrap Up (10 minutes)

Facilitators will share their story-driven learning pearls of wisdom and favorite resources in the form of a listicle.

  • Q&A

  • Closing/ reminder to complete the session evaluation


Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Haven, K. (2007). Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.