The Psychology of Storytelling: What Can eLearning Creators Learn from Star Wars?


In the last two post of this series, we discussed why stories present ideal contexts for learning and shared a helpful infographic about why elearning provides more effective training and improves retention. As a buyer of elearning, you want products that teach concepts effectively, and as a seller you want to offer content that rivals the best elearning products as the most effective, engaging, and fun courses.

As a seller, how can you incorporate stories and challenges into your course? As authors, George Lucas, JK Rowling, and J. R. R. Tolkien did something right. They created series, or sagas, that excite audiences and continuously prompt questions. Readers or viewers can’t wait to see what happens next. However, there are not many elearning courses that blend the best of a saga like Star Wars with the educational content of a top-notch lecture. Let’s examine what Star Wars did well and see how you can incorporate those components into your training.

Aside from the exciting action of the first scene of the first episode, there is a continuous prompting of questions throughout each episode that keeps viewers hungry for more—not only do they want to watch the entire episode right then and there, but they might also want to watch the rest of the trilogy, or both trilogies, immediately. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, continuously prompting questions increases the likelihood that a new concept will form when the question is answered. So maybe figuring out why Princess Leia is being held captive is not particularly educational, but swap out that knowledge with some concept that is relevant to your course, make learners wonder why, and expect them to remember that fact much longer than if they heard the same thing in a boring lecture.

Star Wars also has complex characters who we follow from episode to episode. These characters encounter real human issues viewers can relate to (even though many of them are not human). People like relating to characters. Why? The more a viewer relates to a character, the more self-immersive the content becomes (see the first post of this series to find out why that is important). Suppose you have to figure out if characters, say Alice or Tom, got from point A to point B faster during an elearning course. You probably won’t really care much who wins and you’ll likely breeze through the problem to get it over with. However, if you relate to Alice or Tom because you know something about them and have seen their characters develop throughout several courses, you may take more time to think about the problem and put more effort into fleshing out an answer, as well as identifying implications.

The graphics, sound effects, and realistic videos in Star Wars have always been ahead of their time. Though the original trilogy seems fairly low-tech to us today, it surpassed many people’s expectations when it was first released. eLearning sellers could incorporate the same techniques that George Lucas used in his Star Wars trilogies. Though most sellers do not have nearly as high of a production value, virtual reality technologies and other helpful tools will likely make high-quality and interactive experiences more affordable and accessible. In not too many years, sellers could blend excellent graphics with appropriate sound and lighting effects to excite learners and activate concepts at the appropriate time.

Though creating a program with as high of a production value as Star Wars would be quite challenging, the Star Wars saga offers many valuable hints and techniques for captivating an audience and introducing valuable content. As a creator of elearning, you can borrow the techniques that George Lucas used in his exciting saga to create excellent elearning content that excites consumers.

Image Credit: JD Hancock via flickr