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Storytelling has come into use in instructional design and in education and training as a research and instructional tool to access memories on experience that can then be used in reflective practices.

See also Narrative.

Stories in problem solving

Jonassen and Hernandez-Serrano (2002) compiled a list of functions that have been attributed to stories. Among the most relevant in education are the ways in which telling stories:

  • permit the negotiation of meaning and allow learners to perceive themselves in the place of another
  • build, preserve, and alter memory
  • allow reflection on past actions and intentions so as to form and inform future actions
  • facilitate the building of arguments
  • give vicarious experience and models to emulate or reject
  • mediate the expression of identity within a community (see Community of practice)
  • permits learners to explore a particular and situated experience from a specific perspective

Past experience and expertise is related by practitioners through stories rather than principles and stories are recalled when searching for solutions to specific problems (Kolonder, 1992 in Jonassen and Hernandez-Serrano, 2002). They can also substitute real experience giving learners possible options to resolve problems they have never personally encountered.

Stories in instructional design

Instructional design models as varied as methodologies such as Merrill's First principles of instruction, pedagogic strategies like Constructivism, Socio-constructivism, Situated learning and pedagogical scenarios involving microworlds and case-based reasoning all rely use storytelling to create a problem-solving context. Stories and storytelling are useful pedagogical tools for problem-based and case-based learning.

Jonassen and Hernandez-Serrano (2002) consider the use of stories in case-based reasoning through their incorporation in the learning environment within a 'case-based library' with an indexing designed to reflect the process involved in the interpretation and solution of a problem. The collection and anlaysis of stories is useful in instructional design in that it can help in the analysis of tasks to by presented and to support instruction.

Task-analysis using stories

Stories can be used to design problem-solving tasks by providing real-life cases and their solutions that can in turn be translated into conceptual and strategic knowledge. To collect domain-relevant stories, onassen and Hernandez-Serrano (2002) suggest:

  • stories be collected from skilled practitioners presented with a particular problem
  • practioners be asked to recall similar problems in their experience and work with them to identify goals and expectations, the context, the solution chosen and the outcome and to summarize the main points of the story.
  • indexing the stories for easy and relevant retrieval.

Stories to support instruction

In instruction, stories can be used to present:

  1. present examples of principles, theories, concepts, etc while taking advantage of their ease of memorization.
  2. present particular problems to be solved
  3. a repertoire of similar stories or cases to be used in the construction of meanings to find solutions to new problems

Storytelling in reflective practice

Stories and anecdotes have been used to engage students in reflection. (McGill, 2000) genre of anecdote is effective because of its capacity to :

  1. force the writer to "distill the essence of the event" through writing and re-writing to adhere to the strict form of the genre (McGill, 2000)
  2. the process provides opportunity for analysis, revelation of embedded stories, bringing to light and formulation of understandings previously unclear.
  3. anecdotes are situated in context and detail, providing both examples and the building of a shared repertoire to use in the examination of one's belief systems and their evolution. See Community of practice.

Furthermore, anecdotes can be shared and written collaboratively to encourage critical thinking.

See Role of narrative in learning.

Stories in design-based research

Stories, being founded in reality, offer a more focussed and particular perspective and can reveal otherwise overlooked design and human-computer interaction issues than 'typical' scenarios making them a useful tool in design-based research. Erickson (1999) points out that stories and anecdotes can be used to “reveal a users-eye view of the landscape, and, provide an extremely effective way for getting people--both users and designers--involved and talking with one another.” and to capture the themes and events that will inform design decisions.


  • Erickson, T. (1999). Design as Storytelling. [1]
  • Erickson, T. (1995). Notes on Design Practice: Stories and Prototypes as Catalysts for Communication*. [2]
  • Jonassen, D., Hernandez-Serrano, J. (2002). Case-Based Reasoning and Instructional Design: Using Stories to Support Problem Solving. ETR&D, Vol. 50, No.2, pp.65-77
  • McGill, M. (2000) A Sting in the Tale: Use of Anecdote as a Research Tool. paper presented at AARE 2000 Conference [3]