How to Use Pixar's Storytelling Tips for Impactful eLearning Designs

Coco (Disney/Pixar, 2020).

Think about a story that had an impact on you. Maybe it was the movie Coco (not going to lie, tears were shed), the latest crime series on Netflix or The Wizard of Oz. Whatever it was, it had an impact on you, it pulled you in, it engaged you and it probably made you feel something. 

As instructional designers we are tasked with meeting a business goal. To meet a business goal we often need to create change and to create change we need to change behaviour. As you may know, changing behaviour is not an easy task. Think about a time when someone asked you to do something differently. Did you do it? If you did not, it may be because you did not have an emotional reaction, you did not understand why or you were not interested when they were speaking to you.

This is where storytelling can lend a hand. Storytelling can make you feel something, it can capture your attention and it can help you see things differently. Imagine if we could have this effect on our learners.

So as instructional designers how do we incorporate storytelling into our learning design, in a way that has an impact and that helps achieve our project goals?

Our team came across a great resource that we think will help achieve just that. In 2011, Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist, tweeted 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar (Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, 2013). Check out the resource here (Peters, 2018).

Our team at Belvista Studios identified the rules from this resource that add the most value to us as instructional designers and generated practical tips for each. Our intent is to enable you to successfully use storytelling to create engaging and impactful eLearning projects.

1. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different (Coats, 2011).


As an instructional designer your focus can be restricted to what you need to achieve (e.g. the project goal) as well as what you think will add value to the lives of your learners and engage them. Whilst this is important, it is also important that you discover what is actually interesting/valuable to your audience (your learners) by understanding them (e.g. gaining insight into their needs and interests).

This can be achieved by:



2. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free (Coats, 2011). 

  • Keep your story/scenario as simple as possible whilst still obtaining the value that you require. Ask yourself, “Have I told this story in the most simple way?” and “What is the simplest story that I can tell that meets the project goal?”
  • If characters/storylines do not add value to your goal/objectives, leave them out.

Finding Nemo (Disney/Pixar, 2020).

3. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience (Coats, 2011).

  • When you are creating a story/scenario, ensure that you are realistic in how your characters would act/respond.
  • Your learners and the people in their world have opinions and react in a variety of ways. This should be reflected in your storyline. 

Inside Out (Disney/Pixar, 2020).

4. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it (Coats, 2011). 

  • Before you begin writing your story/scenario, be very clear on your intent.
  • Ask yourself, “Why am I creating this eLearning solution?” and “How will this story/scenario contribute to this intent?” 


5. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there (Coats, 2011). 

  • Before you get into too much detail, determine what the essence of your story/scenario is (e.g. a woman is continually upset by how customers treat her and gradually develops symptoms of depression).
  • Once you have clearly identified this, decide if it adds value to your goal and if it will engage your audience.

Up (Disney/Pixar, 2020).

That is it for this blog on How to Use Pixar's Storytelling Tips for Impactful eLearning Designs. We hope that these tips add value to your upcoming eLearning projects. When done well, stories are impactful and in turn they can add great value to your learning solutions.

We recommend you pick a tip and apply it to your next solution. Share it on social media too so that others can learn and apply it too.

If you would like to discuss storytelling for eLearning in further detail please do not hesitate to contact our passionate founder Kim via kim@belvistastudios.com or by connecting with her on LinkedIn.

References 

Aerogramme Writers’ Studio. (2013). Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Retrieved https://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2013/03/07/pixars-22-rules-of-storytelling/.

Coats, E. [Lawnrocket]. (2011, May 24). 22 Rules of Storytelling, by PIXAR [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/lawnrocket.

Peters, B. (2018). 6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar). Retrieved from https://medium.com/@Brian_G_Peters/6-rules-of-great-storytelling-as-told-by-pixar-fcc6ae225f50.

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