From time immemorial, storytelling has been used not only as a means of communication, but also as a way to pass knowledge from generation to generation (story-based learning). It’s easy to understand why storytelling has played and is still playing such an important role in our lives, after all, who doesn’t like a good story?
Whenever a story is told, whether from a book, through movies or songs, there is something in us that identifies with the characters of the story. We tend to latch on as the story unfolds and follows the characters through their journey, prevailing over challenges, and in the end, emerging as heroes. It is these aspects of storytelling; the fact that we often relate to the challenges in the story and get inspired by some of the characters, that make it such a great teaching tool – hence, story-based learning.
Why our brain loves story based learning
Most of us cannot stop yawning during presentations or lectures that are filled with PowerPoints, diagrams, statistics, graphs, etc. As we sit there, all we can think about is a merciful ending to our agony. Ultimately, we leave the same way we arrived, with little or no additional information. But the reverse is true when stories are incorporated within lectures.
Why is that? The answer is straightforward. During a PowerPoint presentation, the parts of the brain which are activated are the Broca’s area (speech production) and the Wernicke’s area (language comprehension). It is in these areas that languages are processed and decoded into meaning. This is basically all that happens!
On the other hand, with story-based learning, stronger neurological responses are activated. The Broca’s area and the Wernicke’s area are not the only parts of the brain which are stimulated. For example, the brain (adrenal glands) causes the release of a stress hormone called cortisol during the tense parts of the story, which helps to keep us alert – goodbye to yawning. The brain (pituitary gland) also causes the secretion of a hormone called oxytocin during the romantic or “cute” parts of the story, which promotes connection and bonding. That’s not all! During the happy ending of the story (when the characters/heroes resolve the conflict), the limbic system (the brain’s reward centre) releases dopamine, which helps us to feel more motivated and optimistic.
This is the Biology behind the efficacy of story-based learning.
Benefits of story-based learning in the classroom
1. Makes learning lively and improves learning outcomes
As mentioned earlier, people tend to relate to the characters or the challenges in a story. Once this happens, the learning outcomes of the presentation or lecture dramatically improves because the learners can apply that knowledge to their own lives.
It is, however, important to note that the more the story is relatable, the better the learning outcomes. As such, teachers do not need to tell stories which are far from reality. Educators can tell stories that include common challenges that the learners encounter daily and provide solutions.
2. Stimulates emotions and compels action
We are emotional beings, and so it is easier for us to remember a piece of information when it triggers our feelings. What better way to do that than incorporating the story-based learning approach? Using visual materials makes the learning process even more memorable.
Once the story stimulates the learners’ emotions, it does not only help them remember information, it also helps them to create a parallel story in their minds that suits them best, compelling them to act.
The story-based learning approach is certainly one that all teachers need to incorporate in their classrooms, as a way to make their lessons more engaging and compelling more pupils to take action.