This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

We are nearing the end of our Basics of Educational Stories series. In total, we have looked at the basic elements of story, the value of educational storytelling, the Hero’s Journey and how it can be used in educational stories, and the first four of five principles: Hero Audience Bonding, Emotion and Learning, Presentation, and Learning Profiles.

Now we dive into the fifth principle: Interactivity.

In many ways, interactivity is a capstone of the other principles. When a story is interactive, it gives a more genuine bonding experience and increases emotional involvement, makes a much stronger presentation, and complements a variety of learning profiles. If interactivity is the capstone, it can also be called the bedrock. When a story is interactive in some way (even if just encouraging the audience to picture themselves in the protagonists place), it encourages the other principles by design. Interactivity holds it all together and shoots steroids into an educational story.

By designing stories that are interactive and allow the student the chance to participate, the repetition of processes can be made more interesting. Younger students, especially, have a great ability to learn as they interact. The hero may ask the audience for help, the storyteller may include exercises into the story, and the story will most
definitely include the hero working through the processes in order to reinforce the learning.

Stories can also be used to introduce concepts that lie behind the processes in process-driven principles. When a character uses addition with something other than cold numbers (perhaps bails of grain to feed the village) the learning is adapted for those who struggle with logical-mathematical intelligence. People relate to narrative.

Why is interactivity is so important to educational storytelling?

  • Learn by solving problems

We learn by doing. What better way to learn through storytelling than by doing through storytelling. This kind of interactivity would suggest having puzzles, quizzes, or other challenges that require the audience (learner) to master a skill or knowledge to continue. The story could even take a twist depending on how the reader solves said problems.

  • Ownership = emotional investment

As we discussed earlier, emotion strengthens learning, especially in storytelling. When a learner gets to impact the story, they take ownership and pride in that story. That equates to an emotional investment.

  • Get to see consequences of decisions

Through interactivity, the reader also gets the benefit of trial and error in a safe environment. Here, they can learn from the actions of (fictional) others without having to deal with the consequences themselves.

What “Interactive” Could Mean

The first question to consider is what makes a story interactive. Honestly, almost any story is interactive by default because the reader interacts with the protagonist through empathy. That being said, let’s be more specific. I mean interactive to mean an approach to storytelling where the audience manipulates the course of events or presentation of the story. In this way, the audience becomes part of the story and/or story creation process.

In my post (Seven) Interactive Story Ideas Aided by Technology, I lists some possibilities:

1. Giant Madlib

What about a story that knows your reader? Not your target audience, but your specific reader. Before the story started, the reader input several details about their life: favorite color, vacation, fears, etc. And the story, like the world”™s best madlib, put these details in the right spot, making each experience different. Unique to the reader.

2. Bonus Features

Blue-ray discs have them, why not books? Deleted chapters, character interviews, behind the scenes commentary. You get the idea.

3. Choose Your Own Path

I”™ll admit, this isn”™t exactly a new idea. With technology, however, you can do a classic “choose your own adventure” story in really interesting ways. One example is the inklewriter.

4. Maze where reader solves puzzles

What if, like a video game, the reader could not progress until they”™ve solved the puzzle for your character? Lost in a labyrinth or on a clue hunt? Personally, I”™d love this.

5. Collaborative (wiki) Story

Wikis (as in wikipedia) are collaborative documents that many people can edit. Open wikis are open to everyone to edit. Most, like wikipedia, are semi-closed. You must have a reputation to edit important articles. Why not let a story evolve in this same way? Discuss, collaborate, and create something better than you may have imagined.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Endless Possibilities

These are just some of the ideas that allow the audience to take control of, engage with, and interact with content. Not just stories benefit from this idea, either. Picture new systems that allow you to curate each article or even co-author with endless other people. Or even a virtual reality system that gives the audience the ability to move around Middle Earth. Yes, games are interactive content, too!

A Few Basic Principles

  • Not for Novelty -None of this is for novelty. None is “just because it”™s cool.” The interactivity carries the content.
  • Stimulate Multiple Senses -When possible, harness the power of multiple senses. Even if you can”™t actually do scratch-and-sniff, describe or symbolize that sense.
  • Guided (linear) or Free (non-linear) – Does the audience interact to get to the next piece or are they allowed to explore their own path?
  • Simplicity and Easy to Follow -no one wants to “work” through content. They want it to be fun, engaging, simple, and easy to follow.
  • High Quality – Whatever interactivity we choose, we should make sure it is of the highest quality for that craft.

In addition, some things to consider for educational interactive stories:

  • Interactivity integrated into the overall learning goals
  • Use as assessment, introduction, and skill building
  • Mix up interactive elements to suit different learning profiles
  • Must be fun! Engaging! A good story in its own right, not just educational.

And that concludes our look at the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Next up is a quick review of the Ten Elements of Educational Stories.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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