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Storytelling and Education: Tell Me, Show Me, Involve Me


Adults 50+


Middle-aged Adults

Young Adults

By Elaine Guerrazzi | September 16, 2019

What do you think of when you hear the word storytelling?
How do you think storytelling contributes to adult learning?

When I think of storytelling I think about sharing experiences and ideas with others in an interactive engagement.  The National Storytelling Network views storytelling as an art and states:

Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.

The mission of the National Storytelling Network (NSN) is to “advance all forms of storytelling within the community through promotion, advocacy and education.” The NSN vision expands on the mission by stating, “all people value the power of storytelling and its ability to connect, inspire, and instill respect within our hearts and communities.”

NOTE: The National Storytelling Network blog has some great articles.

Storytelling is old news.

We all enjoy a good story, and 27,000-year-old cave paintings indicate that this has probably always been the case. Oral storytelling can be traced back almost 200,000 years. Historically, stories have been used to inform, teach, entertain, form friendships, and pass down family beliefs and values. Storytelling has always been a powerful method of communication. This could be because of the brain’s knack for finding patterns.

A basic dictionary definition of learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.”  The dictionary definition does not describe “how” or by what “method” is best to acquire knowledge.  How each of us learn the best differs and I believe depending on the content the best learning style could change.  The 3 learning styles are:

Type of LearnersDescription
Visual LearnersStudents learn best when they can see/visualize the concepts. 
Auditory LearnersStudents learn best when they can hear an explanation of the concepts
Kinesthetic LearnersStudents learn best when they can actively engage with hand/bodies to experience the concept.
Individual Learning styles

Associated with the learning styles above there learning theories to consider. Keep in mind, that there is no one size fits all adult learning theory but several prevalent theories that could describe how adults learn best.  

Adult Learning TheoryDescription
AndragogyAdults use experiences to guide learning
TransformationalInspirational aha moments; thoughts and perspectives trigger learning
ExperientialAdults learn by doing

Constructivist Knowledge builds from putting meaning to experiences
Learning styles combined with use of storytelling & learning theory

Learning through storytelling actively engages adult learners in the process of knowledge acquisition.  Learning occurs by connecting meaning to the content presented. A few examples of story-based teaching techniques include case studies, role playing and autobiographical writing. Think back to teachers you’ve had in the past. Teachers who stood out as the “best” were intuitively using storytelling methods as educational tools.  I published a blog on July 22 about my first mentor Miss B.  She was a storyteller.  Learning was transformative, experiential, and what we learned built on our active participation through reading, listening and movement.

Research Supporting Storytelling 

Yackley (2007) research titled Storytelling: A Key to Adult Learning concludes that storytelling situates learners in a transformative learning experience. Using stories to improve learning costs nothing, yet it returns bountiful benefits. Adult learners remember more and what they learn becomes a part of them as they become a part of the lesson. Stories engage the mind of the learner.

Findings from the study Effectiveness of Storytelling on Adult Learning by Caminotti & Gray (2012) confirm that storytelling is effective as an adult teaching strategy.

Smith (2012) Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire discusses how storytelling is effective because it works for all types of learners.  Storytelling provides for visual learning (mental pictures), auditory learning (focus on words and voice), and kinesthetic learning (emotional connections and feelings).

D’Abate & Alpert (2017) examine storytelling as a mentoring tool in their study titled, Storytelling in Mentoring: An Exploratory, Qualitative Study of Facilitating Learning in Developmental Interactions.  The focus was on how stories can convey meaning, inspire listeners, and transmit wisdom to help students grow, learn, and develop. They conclude that storytelling is a powerful tool.

Finally, for those interested in more research, a corporate training site discusses 3 ways to use the power of storytelling along with a summary of supporting research. 

Boris (2017) article titled, What Makes Storytelling So Effective for Learning highlights and confirms the points from the prior research. The use of storytelling:

**creates a sense of connection
**builds familiarity and trust
**allows the listener to enter the story where they are
**makes students more open to learning
**enhances level of engagement
**conveys complex ideas in a simplified way

Malamed (2011) article provides a good summary of the benefits of storytelling to the educational process.

**Stories are emotional glue connects audience to message
**Stories reshape knowledge into something meaningful
**Stories make people care
**Stories are more likely to be shared
**Stories give meaning to data

Next week the idea of storytelling will switch from education perspective to a more personal perspective and expand on a prior blog published on August 26, Keepsakes & Memories.

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2 thoughts on “Storytelling and Education: Tell Me, Show Me, Involve Me

    1. I agree!! To teach any principle AND in any setting. Stories help paint the picture or provide an image of the idea being shared. Thanks for reading.

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