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Powered by Storytelling: 7 Storytelling Principles to Create Engaging Learner Experiences

The first time I lived with a roommate, she brought an espresso machine with her. It was the only coffee machine we had.

My first contribution to the apartment was a French Press. When she asked me why, my answer was simple: “Espressos are too short for stories.”

The need to share stories is a fundamental part of who we are. It is common to every culture and it is something we learn in infancy.

The logic pattern in a story is among the first we can recognize, and it is one we will try to seek out throughout our lives. So powerful is our impulse to detect story patterns that we see them even when they’re not there.

For instance, the king died and then the queen died is nothing more than a sequence of events. However, upon seeing this sequence of events, we start to believe that the king and queen were related, that perhaps the queen died of grief… We cannot help but try and find the story.

By applying storytelling principles to learner experiences, we help guide learners towards conclusions by presenting a logic pattern they will naturally want to follow.

Elements of storytelling applied to learner experience design

Part 1: The Plot

We always define the plot at the start of our project. It ensures we keep a clear vision through the process.

A good plot will help the other elements fall into place. It will also contain your overarching learning objective.

Example: The learner needs to apply the behaviours outlined in a company Code of Conduct policy.

Part 2: The Characters

There are two types of characters in learner experience design:

  • The Learner
  • The Company Brand

These characters interact throughout the training. You can think of the learner as the target audience and the brand as the filter through which you are communicating with them. 


Learner: All employees across the organization. On average 25-35 years old with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Brand: Modern, clean, creative.

Part 3: Theme

This is where the story will take place. It is where we decide what kind of “world” we will build for our learner.

Example: The Code of Conduct will be presented as a graphic novel.

Part 4: Diction

It is how our training “talks” to the learner. This will often be defined by the company brand.


  • Formal language
  • Informal colloquial language
  • Scientific terminology

Part 5: Melody/Chorus

Here we decide what part of the learner’s interaction with the course will be repeated. This is distinguished from the theme as it deals not with the look of the course, but with a specific kind of interaction.


  • Click reveals
  • Long, web-inspired pages

Part 6: Décor

This can be thought of as pure graphic design. It is an extension of the theme but with more detail and it will be informed by branding.

Example: Detailed characters with simple backgrounds using the company brand’s primary colours.

Part 7: Spectacle

This is the “wow factor” — the thing that will stick in the learners’ minds — so that when they’re describing our training, they’ll say: “That’s the one with the x or the y.”

Examples: Unique animation features.

When applying these seven storytelling elements, it is important for us to remember that each one is dependent on the one that preceded it. While it’s tempting to start with the “wow factor” (Spectacle) or the design (Décor), this can lead us to good looking courses no one will want to take. By going through all seven elements in sequential order, we can use our natural drive for the story to create truly stunning and memorable learner experiences.  

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1 Comment
  • Himja Sethi
    Posted at 07:26h, 07 June Reply

    This sounds so relevant, relatable and “in tune with the times”

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