Well-told stories can draw listeners and drive them to yearn for more. It is easy to forget about the spell stories cast. Instead of being transformed by stories, bullet points on a slide deck have taken place in the world of education.

Trying to recall numbers without context becomes more challenging the older we get and the more complex the subject is. Without the connections created by stories, learners miss out or work considerably harder to retain the same amount of information.

Educators can help students grasp complex subjects by using stories in their classrooms. Delivering stories has numerous benefits, including creating a context for pure facts, transcending learning styles, and improving memory.

Education and storytelling complement each other, no matter the learner’s age. But how can stories transform adult education in colleges, business schools, and executive learning settings?


Creating context for facts

Quintessentially, stories create connections. In a traditional context, stories have been used to connect generations of people to their ancestors. Storytelling also creates bonds and sparks ideas between people.

Adult education often seeks to introduce and explain complex concepts. These concepts could be presented as a mere collection of facts, but in the context of a story, they come to life and allow adults to engage with the story.

Professionals and executives attend further education courses to increase their knowledge in a specific field. They are also actively “writing” their own narrative. When presenters and educators use storytelling, adult learners use their experience to position themselves within the story’s context. This increased engagement suits adults’ more active learning styles than children.

These students actively connect to the story’s protagonists and the ideas and concepts they represent.


Transcending learning styles

Educators believe that in any given group of adult learners, 40% are visual learners, another 40% are auditory learners, and 20% learn kinesthetically. Most people do not fall into one group exclusively, but almost every person has a preferred way of learning. Few teaching tools appeal to all types of learners, but stories do. Storytelling connects all three types of learners and the ideas that they are learning.

Take a classic business school scenario, for example. Students are likely being presented with lecture-style and seminar-style classes.

Visual learners will find it easiest to learn content presented by video or other imagery. Rather than relying on visual elements presented by the educators, they could make their own. Using visual storytelling to deliver the curriculum will allow them to absorb the teachable moments.

Auditory learners benefit from lectures and class discussions. Exposed to storytelling, they would remember the narrator’s voice and delivery. If auditory learners retell a story, they will likely use the same words and imitate the delivery. Where visual learners create mental images, auditory learners recall words.

Kinesthetic learners prefer learning by experience or performing a task themselves. Storytelling might not look like an obvious choice for this group, but it is. Well-presented stories evoke emotions in kinesthetic learners and allow them to experience the story’s content.

Customising educational content for different types of learners is not always possible or practical. But by utilising storytelling, educators can cover different learning types with one approach. For example, introducing stories into a lecture makes this delivery effective for auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners.


Improving retention

Stories make facts memorable. Most would retell the story in a heartbeat but reach for their notes to double-check the bullet points. Hand on heart: do you find it easier to recall a story your colleague told you or the exact order of the bullet points they presented on a slide?

The Harvard Business Review quotes organisational psychologist Peg Neuhauser, whose research confirms the memory’s retention of well-told stories. According to her, students remember learning from stories more accurately and for longer than anything they learned purely from facts.

Adults, in general, lead more complex lives than school-age children. Consequently, education, including college or business school courses, competes with other commitments and interests. Adults juggle even more competing demands at an executive or professional level, as many have started a family at that point.

To facilitate effective adult education, courses need to be presented in a manner that cuts through the noise of a busy life. Stories are the ideal facilitator because they are relatable, create connections, and are more easily memorable than pure facts. Moreover, to be truly effective, adult learners need to apply their learning to their professional or personal environment to be truly effective.

Effective adult education inspires a change in behaviour or attitude. Only when those changes are seen, true learning happen. Presenting facts and information on their own is often not the most effective approach to achieving these changes.

Storytelling in education helps transform the learning process. Stories create a rich context around facts and information. They bring complex concepts to life, make them relatable and create a connection between the learner and the fact. Moreover, stories work well with any learner, thus giving educators one of the most powerful tools to reach diverse audiences.

Because storytelling supports the retention of what has been learned, it also has long-term positive effects. Without stories, educators miss opportunities to connect with their students and make a lasting impact.