Using Narratives in VE

Image: Victor @ Pexel

Gabrielle Dolan is the author of six books and a global expert on storytelling in business. I recently attended an online seminar to see how we can apply her narrative techniques in VE learning design to grab the students’ attention and help them remember information.

VE teachers and trainers often use stories from their experience to provide context for learning material and to demonstrate real world applications, so it makes sense to examine the best storytelling methods and apply them in our education setting.

What makes a story a story?

It would seem a simple enough question to answer but in her extensive research into narratives, Gabrielle has found that many people call things stories, but they are not, instead they are timelines, case studies or simply a collection of facts.

Stories need to describe a specific event which has happened, and they also must use the sequence or structure which Aristotle outlined over 2000 years ago, a beginning, middle and an end.

So, if you think you are telling a story and it has no beginning, middle or end and no specific event, you are aren’t telling a story, you are probably just boring your audience.

Stories in education

Gabrielle has a list of considerations for telling stories. Stories should be:

Purposeful – it is clear why you are sharing this story

Relatable and relevant – to the message and the audience

Succinct – no more than one or two minutes

Authentic – it needs to be true and credible

For a story to earn its place it must be congruent with at least one of the learning objectives. Stories, no matter how good they are, must be relevant to the VE student.

Using interviews

The RMIT Diploma of Nursing staff included video interviews throughout many units that included several nurses with a range of experience levels who shared stories of how they would respond or have responded to certain situations. Nurses telling stories like this is a powerful way to stimulate an emotional connection to the material and help the VE student understand why something is important.

Ethos pathos and logos

Delving back into the work of Aristotle, Gabrielle advises using his modes of persuasion when formulating a story:

Ethos – The credibility of the storyteller

Pathos – Appealing to the emotions of the audience

Logos – The facts and figures to support an idea

The most important of these three are ethos and pathos however, poor storytellers tend to spend the most amount of time focusing on logos and get bogged down in details. It’s difficult to lead change through logic as the brain processes emotion faster, so pique the brain’s interest first with emotion and then let them justify it with logic.

This is a particularly important concept to consider in relation to VE. It is very easy to create an ‘information dump’ and load the student up with percentages and statistics as to why something for example, a First Aid course, is important. Instead, VE students would become much more engaged with the material if they heard a story about a real-life example of how someone’s life was saved by a First Aider.

Four types of storytellers

If you are using interviews or telling your own stories to students, Gabrielle wants you to consider what type of storyteller is doing the telling.

Bragger – just wants to share a story about themselves. People don’t like listening to braggers, instead, temper your story with some vulnerability like self-doubt and focus on the challenges.

Joker – tells very funny stories but they have no message. This gets back to the story needing to be purposeful and on topic.

Reporter – only discusses facts, statistics and breaks the rule of ethos, pathos and logos.

Inspirer – not only is their story very clear and on topic, it is also very personal – this is the best.

For the VE student

There are many compelling reasons to use storytelling in learning material:

  • Stories enable students to visualise events.
  • Stories are an interconnected sequence of events which is an easier thing to remember than a random collection of information.
  • Stories trigger an emotional response which assists students to place information in their long-term memory.
  • Stories can make dry material engaging and entertaining.

Putting it into practice

Gabrielle encourages you to use stories from your own experience and I will be putting this into practice as I am currently working on a VE unit which covers copyright in creative works, and I have some experience with scriptwriting.

The subject of copyright can be considered the dry and boring side of creative writing, but I have a story which should make the creative writing students sit up and take notice. I began collaborating with a couple of producers after a script I wrote gained their attention after winning an award in a competition.

We spent about a week working together on the next draft for the script and at the end they told me they wanted to work on the project by themselves without me and most importantly without any financial compensation or credit towards me. They were under the mistaken impression that because they had assisted me in the latest draft, they owned a majority share of the copyright of the script and could do what they liked even though I had never assigned copyright over to them.

We parted ways and I kept my script, my copyright, my award and my money. There is no point in writing something if you do not know your rights. This is an engaging and real-life example that will help to reinforce the importance of copyright to the students.

Finding Gabrielle

Even though she failed English in her final year of school, Gabrielle is an excellent storyteller and she shared lots of great tips which we can use in creating educational resources for our students. You can learn more about the art and science of storytelling at