Have you ever been affected by the power of an amazing story?

Have you ever been drawn into the time and place of what was happening, felt the emotions of the people there, and resonated with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the purpose and reason behind those human beings?

With stories, we can put ourselves in those shoes. We can connect with their background and their feelings. We can ask ourselves what we would do in that same situation.

The emotions we feel connect us with the story. Those feelings may prompt us to act or behave differently (more nobly, more resourcefully, more efficiently) because of the way our emotions respond to the actions of someone else.

We have been using storytelling to teach for thousands of years because storytelling gives us the power to evoke strong emotions. Stories compel people to take action for reasons bigger than they otherwise would have felt.

When it comes to online courses, we want our courses to be successful. Having our students resonate with the trainings and purpose behind what they are learning is a key desired outcome. Student connection will elevate information retention and student success.

Since we want our students to learn effectively and be engaged in our courses, storytelling should be a key component in your online courses.

But what is the science behind storytelling? Why do our brains connect so well when we hear the stories of others? Let’s take a dive into storytelling and the science of emotion.

Storytelling and the Science of Emotion


Stories engage. Stories teach.

Great stories can create empathy in your learners. The science behind this is the neurochemical oxytocin. In his book “How Stories Change the Brain” Paul J. Zak reveals that during tests, character-driven stories with emotional content consistently caused oxytocin synthesis. (Paul J. Zak. “How Stories Change the Brain.” Greater Good. 27 July 2016).

This means that our brains react with empathy, sympathy, compassion, care, and connection. We resonate emotionally to the story.

Connecting with your audience emotionally:

  • Provides motivation and compels them to want to learn more;
  • Results in better understanding of the key points because the learner can see themselves in the same situation;
  • Enables better recall of the content; and
  • Can compel your learner to take action.

In an article, The Science Behind Storytelling, the author Rebecca Williams shares more about Zak’s research:

“In fact, Zak’s research also proves stories that successfully create tension make listeners come to share the emotions of the characters in them. This is the foundation for empathy, and it’s what gets people to listen. Empathy is hearing and recognizing the emotion behind what someone is saying. In short, empathy gets buy in — an important commodity in the workplace whether you’re informally pitching an idea, giving a presentation, or rallying a team.”

Video is one of the most effective ways to share stories. A video can evoke both positive and negative emotions and really lets you see yourself in the shoes of the character. It provides two primary modes of learning: visual and auditory. In a way, an engaging video even provides experiential learning to the viewer when the story is shared in a way that puts the learner in the character’s shoes.

How can we apply this? How can we incorporate stories into teaching in a tangible way for our course content strategy?


Stories can be effective examples of the concepts you are teaching. They can be positive examples of what you want the result of your online course to be, and they could be negative examples of what happens without the result of your learning objectives achieved.

When using a negative story, try out this idea for maximum effect- start your story at the end showing what the final distressing result was. Then go back to the beginning and unfold the series of small unnoticed events that brought about the unfortunate ending.

Although negative stories are impactful, nothing beats the power of a positive story. In the new hire onboarding training that we created for social enterprise Cuddle + Kind, we were able to leverage their captivating marketing video and use the power of a positive emotional hook to engage new hires to want to learn more about their role in the organization. The video also beautifully illustrates the organization’s mission and values, an important lesson for new hires.


Stories create a frame of reference for your learners. Using a story to teach a concept creates an emotional connection.

You may even use a storyline as the base of your course or module and weave in the elements you need to teach. The concepts can literally be taught within the story, with the learner as the main character of the story, needing to respond and react to “plot twists” in the story in order to learn the concepts of the course.

In some instances, the story itself may be what you are teaching.


Stories draw us in. If you have learners who may be less motivated in the topic you’re teaching (or you know the material could potentially be very dry and boring), use a themed story to engage and retain their attention.

Even an animated video can tell a story and teach a compelling lesson. This is a video that we created for an online course for the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia. Once again, the video is used as a hook at the beginning of the online course.

Animated Training Video Example | Video Creation Services

Don’t have a Hollywood budget? Remember, it is the story that matters, not the Hollywood actors. Here is a great example of a very low budget video that sparks major emotion.

Thomas Alva Edison's Amazing mother

How are you using the power of storytelling in your eLearning, training videos, communication and marketing videos?

If you’re ready to take the next steps to creating compelling video content for your organizations, here is how to choose the best video software for your business, and how to create training videos with you as the star. Both are excellent resources (and have bonus downloads to go with them) on helping you be equipped and confident in creating great video!

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