Storytelling in eLearning and How to use it Effectively in Scenario-Based Learning

In eLearning Basics by Eoin O'Neill

Humans have been using storytelling to communicate information and ideas for thousands of years. From Irish folklore to ancient Greek myths, stories have been a powerful tool to pass on knowledge from generation to generation. The essence of storytelling still has the same effect on us, in today’s modern society, as it did for our ancestors.

The timeless art of storytelling has long been revered as a powerful tool for imparting knowledge and wisdom. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rich tapestry of Irish folklore, where stories of ancient lore have been passed down through generations to educate people about their environment. Tobar na nGealt or ‘The Well of the Mad’ in Kerry, located in the valley of Gleann-na-nGealt (also known as ‘The Valley of The Mad’), is a perfect example of a story used to convey information and knowledge: As the story goes, those suffering from mental illness would journey to this mystical well in search of a cure. The earliest written references to Tobar na nGealt date back to the 16th century, showcasing the enduring power of storytelling to retain information over centuries.
However, it is only in recent years that science has revealed the true potency of this sacred well. Scientific studies have shown that the water from Tobar na nGealt contains high traces of lithium, one of the chemicals used to treat bipolar disorder. This remarkable connection between ancient folklore and modern science is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling.


‘Gleann na nGealt’, or ‘Valley of The Mad’, Kerry. Photo Credit: Sara Daniele Rivera (See Ref)


Beyond its historical and cultural significance, storytelling has been found to profoundly impact our very biology, affecting the chemical reactions and neural processes in our brains. When we listen to stories, a complex cascade of neurochemical events occurs within our brains, activating multiple regions associated with emotional processing, social cognition, and memory recall.
One key chemical released during storytelling is oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone” due to its role in social bonding and attachment. As we listen to stories that resonate with us, our brains release oxytocin, creating feelings of trust, empathy, and connection with the storyteller and the characters in the story. This powerful hormone has also been linked to enhanced memory recall, helping us to retain the information and lessons embedded within the story.
Furthermore, storytelling stimulates multiple brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These regions play crucial roles in emotional processing, decision-making, and memory consolidation. As we hear stories, our brains create neural connections to better process and recall information, leading to deeper and more meaningful learning experiences.

This is especially true in the context of eLearning. Incorporating storytelling into eLearning can significantly enhance the learning experience by capturing learners’ attention, stimulating their imagination, and fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Through narratives, eLearning content becomes more relatable and engaging, enabling learners to connect emotionally with the material.
Storytelling has become an increasingly popular tool for delivering effective eLearning experiences, particularly when combined with scenario-based learning. Scenario-based learning involves presenting learners with realistic, hypothetical scenarios that challenge them to make decisions and apply their knowledge and skills in a simulated context. When used with storytelling, scenarios can become immersive, engaging experiences that allow learners to connect with the content on a deeper level.
To use storytelling effectively in scenario-based learning, start with a clear understanding of the learning objectives and desired outcomes. From there, you can create a compelling narrative that aligns with the learning goals and takes learners on an engaging and informative journey. The story should be carefully crafted to ensure it resonates with the learners. This can be achieved by providing realistic context in terms of the typical activities, language, settings and challenges they face in real life.
When designing scenarios, it’s essential to balance realism and challenge. The scenarios should be realistic enough to be relatable, but also challenging enough to push learners out of their comfort zones and help them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By embedding these scenarios within a compelling story, learners can become emotionally invested in the learning experience, leading to deeper engagement and better retention.

Cobblestone Learning collaborated with The National Youth Council Ireland to create scenario-based learning animations and knowledge checks for their social justice eLearning module. The animations depict real-life situations of oppression and discrimination, fostering empathy and understanding. Learners engage with interactive scenarios, make decisions, and witness the consequences. Knowledge checks were implemented to reinforce learning and assess comprehension.
Through the powerful tool of effective storytelling, Cobblestone Learning breathed life into the scenarios presented in the social justice eLearning module for NYCI. By weaving storylines and narratives, learners can be transported into the shoes of those experiencing oppression and discrimination, allowing for a deep and personal connection to the issues at hand. Such evocative storytelling evokes empathy and a heightened awareness of the challenges marginalised individuals face, making the scenarios more relatable and impactful. By infusing the scenarios with the richness of storytelling, learners are able to grasp the complexities of social justice issues and develop a greater commitment to fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. Watch the scenario-based learning exercise Cobblestone Learning created for NYCI below.



Storytelling can be used in various eLearning contexts, from compliance training to soft skills development. For example, a compliance training program might use a story to illustrate the consequences of non-compliance. In contrast, a soft skills program might use a story to demonstrate effective communication or conflict resolution strategies. By using storytelling in this way, eLearning designers can create dynamic, immersive learning experiences that can engage learners, improve knowledge retention, and ultimately drive better performance.

Looking for training that uses scenario based learning? Enquire here.


Photo References

Sara Daniele Rivera – sdrivera42