The use of fiction in learning

Storytelling can be powerful

24 April 2018 | Chloe Cheeseman | , ,

It is no secret that storytelling can be a powerful instructional tool. Here are just a few of its benefits:

  •  Practical application: case studies or scenarios can show what abstract principles look like when put into practice, helping learners apply them in their own lives
  • Relevance: relatable stories and examples show an audience how training materials are relevant to them and so give them motivation to learn
  • Engagement: humans love reading, hearing and seeing stories. The elegance of narrative structure - a beginning, middle and end - pulls the learning audience in and keeps their attention as they ask themselves, what happens next?
  • Understanding: stories are memorable ways of linking ideas together and demonstrating chains of cause and consequence, helping learners understand why particular actions or behaviours are important

 The modern world surrounds us with stories to draw from when creating bespoke e-learning and training. Using real stories from the everyday settings of our training audiences can often be very powerful. By doing so, we bring learning points to life in recognisable contexts for the audience and help them connect with the importance of what they’re learning.

 Real-life case studies have recognised benefits in custom e-learning and training, but the invented tales that exist as part of our broader culture - the ones we get in novels and on-screen dramas - can also bring learning value to a training blend. Here, we explain a couple of them and why adult educators should take fiction seriously.

 Fiction can make facts more accessible

 Many works of “fictional” literature and dramatic art are fabricated with nevertheless great attention to historical and real-world accuracy. With the support of training notes or questions for discussion, they can therefore become compelling learning aides. Most of us will be familiar with this as an educational technique for children and young people. For example the novel Warhorse, which was turned into a smash-hit play and Hollywood film, is used as a resource to teach young adults about the impact of war. When supported with other fact-based training materials, the immersion and emotional engagement of an audience with a well-told work of fiction can both stimulate interest in a subject and deepen understanding.

 By using a little creativity it is possible to find novels, films and dramas that bring insight into a range of common adult training topics, such as engaging with important events of relevance to an organisation’s history; understanding cultural differences in international markets; or reflecting on corporate values and ways of working.

 Fiction can build emotional understanding

 A top beneficial feature of fiction, particularly fictional literature, comes from its ability to create emotional understanding of the characters inside it and the people they represent. Novels give insights into the usually-hidden inner feelings, motivations and beliefs of one or multiple characters. When we as readers are forced to consider the world through their eyes and minds, we are drawn into their emotional experience and can put ourselves into their position.

 For example, Mark Haddon’s best-selling book A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells a fictional (and often very funny) story from the perspective of a little boy on the autism spectrum, allowing the reader to experience and understand his unique form of engaging with the world from a first-person point of view.

 This feature of novelistic writing has been proven to help readers build empathetic insight and can be a powerful tool to facilitate better understanding of different personal experiences, cultures and perspectives. Building this form of emotional knowledge could be useful as part of equality and diversity training. It could also add depth to interpersonal skills-building for improved interactions with beneficiaries, service users, international colleagues and partners.

 Walkgrove would never recommend substituting Shakespeare’s Macbeth for your anti-corruption training. However, the learning potential of fictional works merit serious consideration for the learning community. Why not think about including relevant fictional literature and film as part of your pre-learning, follow-up learning, or blended learning materials?

 

 Sources:

 The Power of Story, White Paper, Walkgrove http://www.walkgrove.co.uk/assets/resources/Walkgrove-Storytelling-white-paper.pdf

 50 Essential Historical Fiction Books, Abe Books

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/features/50-essential-historical-fiction-books.shtml

 About War Horse, MichaelMorpurgo.com

https://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/book/war-horse/

 The Top 10 Novels About 9/11, The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/17/top-10-9-11-novels-porochista-khakpour

 Paul Mason’s top 10 books about China, The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/feb/22/paul-mason-top-10-books-china

 Novels About Honor, Duty or Responsibility, NovelRecommendations.com

http://www.novelrecommendations.com/novels-honor-duty-responsibility/

 Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds, The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/oct/08/literary-fiction-improves-empathy-study