Research shows that stories are extremely powerful tools for learning. That’s because our brain has a natural ability to remember facts told in a story.

A research study by Rashmi Adaval and Robert S. Wyer, Jr. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined differences in information use and recall between bulleted lists of information and narrative information about a vacation destination. Participants in the study were given two travel brochures. One described a vacation in India and the other described a vacation in Thailand. The descriptions in one brochure were presented in narrative (descriptive) form and in the other brochure the descriptions were listed in bullets.

Participants were assigned randomly to read the brochures and then asked to recall and list as many of the places or situations described in the brochure as they could remember. The researchers found that recall was better when information was presented as narrative as opposed to a bulleted list. This result has been confirmed in other research.

The Guild’s new Big Answers report, Using Stories for Learning: Answers to Five Key Questions, describes this kind of research and its implications. In it, Karl Kapp says, “Given the link between learning and storytelling, it would seem that stories would be the most prevalent method for learning. However, people do not commonly consider storytelling in the same sentence as learning design. This is unfortunate, because storytelling and learning design have a lot in common.”

In this research report, Kapp describes Maxine Alterio’s four types of stories for learning—expressive, strategic, reflective, and transformative. For example, a strategic story can promote certain ways of working or thinking. They can help people think purposefully.

Here’s a strategic story one of our benefits counselors used to use at orientation at a company I used to work at.

  • My name is Leila, and I want to tell you a story about an employee I knew at a previous job whose benefits selection had a crucial impact on his family. Many employees make assumptions when they select their benefits that tomorrow will look exactly like today. They don’t consider things that can happen in the future, things like disability or job loss. And so they don’t plan for those things when choosing benefits, because those things cost extra money.

    This employee, whose name was Marcus, had three children and a wife who stayed home with them. He asked me if I thought he should pay extra money and buy long-term disability insurance, since he was rarely sick and was healthy. I always advise people to pay for long-term disability insurance because the likelihood of being disabled during some time in your lifetime is much higher than you think. I saw Marcus over the course of many years and Marcus often laughed when he saw me and sometimes said, “Leila, I haven’t used that disability insurance yet!” and I always replied, “That’s good news, my friend, but it’s good that you have it!”

    A number of years later, Marcus was in the warehouse and someone on a forklift ran into him in a freak accident and Marcus was in the hospital and out of work for five months. That disability insurance simply kept his family afloat. I was so glad that he had it.

    So remember, it’s important to consider the future and your loved ones when selecting benefits.

This story shows how stories allow us to learn from the experience of others without having to face another person’s personal consequences. To paraphrase writer Drake Baer from an article in Fast Company, stories “let you demo other peoples’ minds in the comfy confines of your own.”

In this Guild research report, Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education, explains why stories are extremely valuable for learning, describes how to match learning objectives to four powerful learning story types, and provides guidance on how to compose learning stories. He explains the elements of a good story and provides a storytelling worksheet to make designing your own learning stories easier.


Adval, Rashmi & Wyer, Jr. S. Robert. “The Role of Narrative in Consumer Information Processing.” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 7(3). 1998

Baer, Drake. “Why Did Apple Lose Its Humanities?” 2013.