You can recognize a well-told story. Having heard it, you can remember it, retell it, and take something away from it as your own. A successful learning story follows a flow from intention, overcoming obstacles to an outcome. Underlying the story is the learning story plot — the framework that constructs the experience in the learner's mind.
Utilizing story in learning engages and influence the learner in a narrative form. A learning story enables the audience to dive into the experience without waiting for instruction or learning objectives.
To ensure the learner can embrace the story imagined, we rely upon familiar patterns, structures, and rules that govern the story's flow— the learning story plot.
What is a learning story plot?
In story, the plot is the structure of the story. The sequence of events within the story moves from beginning to end. Good story plots have a beginning, middle, and end. The plot provides a complete view of the story with enough information at the start to carry your audience without confusion through the story to an end. The learning story describes the completeness of dramatic action. The plot in learning experiences presents the experience in an orderly fashion and allows the learner to focus on the content, action, and drama of the story without any distractions or explanations about the story's construction.
A learning story is designed to affect a learning outcome, and this ending guides where to begin, how much to include, how the story is ordered, and where and how to end. These intentions are what make up the learning plot. The plot aids the learner as they move through the experience — providing the path, mile-markers, and turns in the learner's mind. The story plot is forward-looking and provides the means for each guess to be answered in a way the learner will understand. For the storyteller, the plot is an opportunity to anticipate what the learner does and does not know.
How does a story plot connect to learning?
A learning story plot needs to be credible and believable; and contains the relevant information — not too long or detailed to lose attention or too little detail or small or unimportant—a mix of characters, relationships, objectives, and place all directly tied to the purpose.
By expanding the structure of the plot to focus on engagement, enlightenment, and follow-through, we expand on the types and formats of stories we tell. Learning story plots focus on moving from ignorance to awareness of a new truth that shapes both the protagonist and, by extension, the learner.