Tell Me A Story

When I arrived at my brother’s house in Hawaii, we received the news that a dear family friend had passed away in southern California. She was my brother’s godmother, and I had spent every Monday afternoon cleaning her house as a way to earn extra money in high school. We both learned our grammar in her fifth grade class, but most of all, she was a friend who had entertained us at family gatherings as a supreme storyteller; truly a master at weaving the threads of her experiences into hilarious fabrics, or sometimes fabrications, that kept us laughing into the night.  So I think it is fitting, that the direction of my research this week, ended up focusing on learning and the importance of storytelling.

This week our Learning Theories and Instruction class has been researching how the human brain functions as we learn. We know that the learner needs to pay attention; the information needs to be meaningful, organized in such a way that the information can be stored in long-term memory and retrieved when needed.  Dr. Ormrod  (Laureate, Education, Inc.) describes the development of cognitivism and how our understanding of how the brain works has developed. “When cognitivism as a perspective arose, largely in the ’60s and in the ’70s, the thinking was initially that we probably think a lot like computers think, and we developed a computer metaphor for thinking”. However, as she notes later, people don’t necessarily think in a point A to point B way, they can branch out in different directions all at once. Most importantly she notes, “people are different from computers, and that is that we have feelings as well as thoughts. And a lot of our thinking and learning has emotional overtones”. (Laureate, Education, Inc.)

As I participated in blogging this week, I found Leo Widrich’s blog on the science of storytelling. He explains  how our brains become more active when listening to or telling stories. The implications of narratives for learning are important. He explains how our brains are wired for this. We want to relate what we hear to our prior experiences. He gives practical tips to educators to use simple stories instead of giving advice. Your learners will remember more and enjoy their training experience.

Along this same theme, the article, “The Secrets of Storytelling: Our Love for Telling Tales Reveals the Workings of the Mind”, the author, Jeremy Hsu, (2008), discusses how our brains are wired for storytelling. By the time we are four or five, we develop a trait defined as “theory of mind” or the ability to empathize. He says, “Perhaps because theory of mind is so vital to social living, once we possess it we tend to imagine minds everywhere, making stories out of everything.” (Hsu, 2008). Storytelling is how we learn, how we pass on knowledge. Our varying cultural heritages are steeped in narratives and stories, how we came to be, why we moved to where we are, even why we study what we choose to study.

For another example of what a powerful tool storytelling is, check out Paul Zak’s video on the  All Kinds of Minds blog. The blog’s topic is “Storytelling’s Impact on Empathy (and the Architecture of the Brain)” (All Kinds of Minds, (2013). The point is that putting people at the center of learning instead of skills, would be better for the learners in any situation. The video isn’t long and exemplifies how deeply our instincts for stories are.



Hsu, J. (2008). The secrets of storytelling: Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind. Scientific American Mind, 19(4), 46–51. Retrieved from

Ormrod, J. Information Processing & the Brain. Laureate Education, Inc. [Video Webcast.]. Retrieved from 

Storytelling’s impact on empathy (and the architecture of the brain). (2013, April). All Kinds of Minds (AKOM). [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Widrich, L. (2012 12–5). The science of storytelling: Why telling a story is the most powerful way to activate our brains. Lifehacker. [Blog post]. Retrieved from


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