Distance Learning

Using the power of story to reach distance learners’ hearts and minds

The use of stories in teaching dates back to antiquity, and even today many people find it easier to grasp lessons when they are made more relatable through the use of stories and real life examples. Stories can often be used alongside traditional methods of teaching to augment the lesson and to turn abstract concepts into something more tangible and often times easier to understand. Even today’s stories are still used to teach children and young adults vital life and social skills that will be used throughout their lives. This strategy allows instructors to show their students exactly how the content they are learning will relate to their everyday lives, and how it can be used to improve their overall quality of life in the future.

Story as a tool

The use of stories in the traditional classroom and in distance learning allows us to create opportunities for retention and engagement. Especially in distance learning the use of stories can make subject matter and even individuals themselves more relatable and perhaps even more real to the ones the story is meant for. Creating this opportunity for personal engagement is invaluable in distance learning, where many students often desire more personal instruction and relatability. Because of this, stories are available and very real tool that can and should be used to reach the hearts and minds of learners in a course.


Many times in a learner’s education they will face particularly difficult or abstract subject matter that they may face issues grasping or remembering completely. They may be facing a disconnect between themselves and how tangible or relatable the subject matter is to them. This can especially happen in learning courses that they may not have any prior experience with or are even difficult by design. For instance the study of law is often counted among the most difficult and abstract fields and individual can study. However, instructors will often use stories posed as possible cases to allow their students to relate the information they are learning into a real-world context. Mathematics will often do the same thing to the use of story problems that allow students to see exactly how the concepts they are learning relate to real world events.

Creating engagement

Another valuable aspect of using stories in distance learning is that it creates opportunities for engagement between the learners, the instructor, and the subject matter. Stories can often be used in a more personal matter shared between students or between the instructor and students to create report and relatability and even to create a personality to associate with the other individuals associated with the course, many or all of which these people will likely not know in real life. It is much easier to foster real relationships and to view another individual as more relatable when you can attribute stories and past experiences to them in a meaningful and often constructive way. This can be used for educational purposes or purely for more personal reasons that can further the rapport between students or between students and the instructor.

New York University seems to feel the same way, and outlines some of the best practices professionals in higher education can use to take advantage of the power of storytelling in their own coursework, such as setting goals, analyzing content, and utilizing feedback to positively influence learning outcomes.

Final thoughts

When it comes to learning and education the relatable and personal aspects of the instruction are just as important as the technical ones. It is important to win the hearts and minds of students and to create and environment and a situation where they can feel engaged and relate to one another and their instructor. Because of this stories are useful tool for creating this engagement and allowing students to view the individuals related to the course and the course material itself in a more personal manner.