The Basics of Story Telling in Course Design

Storytelling in online course design refers to using narrative elements, such as characters, plot, and conflict, to create a more engaging and immersive learning experience for students.

One way storytelling can be used in an online course is by incorporating real-life scenarios or case studies to help students apply their learning to real-world situations. This can make the material more relatable and exciting for students and help them understand the relevance of the course content.

Another way storytelling can be used is by incorporating interactive elements such as videos, animations, and graphics to create a more engaging and dynamic learning experience. This can help students visualise and understand complex concepts and make the course more visually appealing.

Additionally, storytelling can create an emotional connection with the students. By using storytelling, the course designer can create a sense of empathy with the characters in the story, and the students can relate to them better. This can help students become more invested in the course material and motivated to learn.

Overall, storytelling is a powerful tool for online course design. It can make the material more engaging, relatable, and interesting for students, helping them understand and retain the information better.


The Hero's Journey in Course Design

The Hero's Journey is a storytelling concept popularised by mythologist  Joseph Campbell in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces". It refers to a standard narrative structure in many historical cultures and traditions.

The Hero's Journey follows a specific pattern: a hero sets out on a quest to face challenges, overcome obstacles, and ultimately achieve their goal.


It typically consists of 17 stages. These are:

  1. The Ordinary World: The hero's everyday life before the adventure begins.

  2. The Call to Adventure: The hero receives a call to action that sets the adventure in motion.

  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the call to action.

  4. Meeting the Mentor: The hero meets a mentor who provides guidance and support.

  5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero crosses the threshold into the unknown and begins the adventure.

  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero faces tests, meets allies and enemies, and begins to prove their worth.

  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave: The hero approaches the innermost cave, the source of the most significant challenge and danger.

  8. The Ordeal: The hero faces the most significant challenge and must confront the source of evil.

  9. The Reward: The hero wins the reward and achieves a great victory.

  10. The Road Back: The hero begins the journey back to the ordinary world.

  11. The Resurrection: The hero experiences a rebirth and gains a new understanding of themselves and the world.

  12. Return with the Elixir: The hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir, the thing they have gained from their journey.

  13. The Refusal of the Return: The hero refuses to return to the ordinary world.

  14. The Magic Flight: The hero must fight to keep the elixir and return to the ordinary world.

  15. Rescue from Without: The hero is rescued from without, usually by the mentor.

  16. The Crossing of the Return Threshold: The hero crosses the threshold and returns to the ordinary world.

  17. Master of Two Worlds: The hero becomes the master of two worlds and can integrate the knowledge and skills they have gained from their journey into everyday life.


Example: Applying the Hero's Journey to Leadership Training

Ok. Now you're thinking, how do you apply that concept to course design?

There's one thing to use the concept for writing a film script or book, but what about a course?

Let's imagine you are looking to develop an online course for new managers who lead a team for the first time in their careers. Here's how it might look.

 The stages could look like this:
  1. The Ordinary World: Introduce the new managers to the course and the challenges they may face in their new role as team leaders.

  2. The Call to Adventure: Present the call to action to develop the skills and knowledge needed to lead a team effectively.

  3. Refusal of the Call: Discuss why new managers may be reluctant to take on the team leader role and how to overcome these fears.

  4. Meeting the Mentor: Provide resources such as case studies, expert interviews, and guest speakers who can guide and support the new managers in their journey.

  5. Crossing the Threshold: Have the new managers engage in interactive activities and exercises that help them to cross the threshold and become more confident in their role as team leaders.

  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Provide simulations and role-playing exercises that allow the new managers to test their skills, meet potential allies and enemies, and develop their leadership abilities.

  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave: Present the biggest challenges that new managers may face, such as conflict resolution, effective communication, and performance management.

  8. The Ordeal: Have the new managers work through a problematic scenario that tests their skills and helps them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they may face as team leaders.

  9. The Reward: Provide recognition and feedback to the new managers for their progress and achievements.

  10. The Road Back: Guide the new managers through a reflection process that helps them to see how far they have come and what they have learned.

  11. The Resurrection: Provide opportunities for the new managers to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in a practical setting.

  12. Return with the Elixir: Encourage the new managers to share their experiences and lessons with others.

  13. The Refusal of the Return: Discuss the common reasons why new managers may be reluctant to return to the ordinary world and how to overcome these fears.

  14. The Magic Flight: Provide support and guidance for the new managers as they transition back to their ordinary world and put their newfound skills and knowledge into practice.

  15. Rescue from Without: Offer ongoing support and resources for the new managers, such as mentorship programs, online forums, and coaching sessions.

  16. The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Provide opportunities for the new managers to evaluate their progress and set goals for continued growth.

  17. Master of Two Worlds: Recognise the new managers as leaders and acknowledge their achievements in both their personal and professional lives.


How To Apply a "Theme" to a Leadership Course Whilst Using The Hero Journey Stages

A theme is a central, unifying idea. The more significant issue emerges as the characters pursue their goals. Choose a theme that aligns with the journey to theme a leadership course based on the Hero's Journey and incorporate the 17 stages.

Here are a few examples

  • Building a Strong Team: This theme focuses on developing a solid and cohesive team, including team dynamics, communication, and motivation.
  • Effective Communication: This theme explores the importance of clear and effective communication in leadership, including verbal and nonverbal communication, conflict resolution, and public speaking skills.
  • Leading with Emotional Intelligence: This theme focuses on the role of emotional intelligence in effective leadership, including self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal skills.
  • Strategic Thinking and Planning: This theme explores the role of strategic thinking and planning in leadership, including goal setting, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • Personal Growth and Development: This theme focuses on the importance of personal growth and development in leadership, including self-reflection, self-awareness, and personal leadership style.
  • Quest for Leadership Mastery: This theme focuses on a leader's journey to becoming an effective and successful leader.


Let's expand on that last example, the Quest for Leadership Mastery. This theme is rooted in the idea that leadership is not a fixed trait but a skill that can be developed and honed over time. In this theme, the leader is seen as a hero on a quest to master the art of leadership, facing challenges and obstacles along the way.

The course content in this theme would focus on developing essential leadership skills, such as communication, motivation, strategic thinking, and emotional intelligence. When designing your course, you would use storytelling, interactive activities, and hands-on simulations to engage the leader and help them progress through each stage of their leadership journey. The course would also include opportunities for self-reflection, where the leader can reflect on their own experiences and identify areas for growth.

Throughout the course, you would use the hero's journey structure to guide the leader's development, helping them to understand the importance of each leadership skill and how to apply it in real-world situations. This structure would also provide a sense of purpose and motivation for the leader as they strive to reach their ultimate goal of becoming a mastery-level leader.

By focusing on the theme of a "quest for leadership mastery", your course design can create a powerful and engaging learning experience that will help the leader develop the skills and knowledge they need to become effective and successful.


Your design could include the following:


  • Use storytelling and narrative elements to engage the learners and help them to understand and connect with the material.
  • Map each stage of the Hero's Journey to specific leadership concepts, skills, and best practices, such as:
  1. The Ordinary World: Introduction to leadership and setting expectations for the course.
  2. The Call to Adventure: Defining leadership and identifying the need for leadership development.
  3. Refusal of the Call: Overcoming leadership challenges and facing fears.
  4. Meeting the Mentor: Finding role models and mentors, learning from their experiences.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: Developing self-awareness and exploring leadership styles.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Building relationships, managing conflict, and leading teams.
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave: Facing challenges and making tough decisions.
  8. The Ordeal: Solving problems, leading change, and navigating the crisis.
  9. The Reward: Achieving success, receiving feedback and recognition.
  10. The Road Back: Reflecting on leadership experiences, learning from failure.
  11. The Resurrection: Growing as a leader, developing resilience.
  12. Return with the Elixir: Sharing leadership lessons and insights.
  13. The Refusal of the Return: Overcoming complacency, avoiding leadership stagnation.
  14. The Magic Flight: Navigating transitions, maintaining momentum.
  15. Rescue from Without: Seeking support, finding resources for growth.
  16. The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Evaluating progress, setting goals for the future.
  17. Master of Two Worlds: Celebrating achievements, becoming a lifelong learner.
  • Use interactive activities, exercises, and assessments that align with each stage of the journey and help learners to apply the concepts and skills they have learned.

  • Provide resources and support that align with each journey stage, such as mentor relationships, peer networks, and ongoing coaching.
  • Develop a community area where leaders can engage with you and their peers and deeper their understanding of leadership topics.


By incorporating the Hero's Journey into the design of your leadership course, you can create a meaningful and engaging learning experience that helps learners to connect with the material, develop their skills, and achieve their goals. You can still apply the same stages whether you deliver the experience online or in person.

What we have outlined above could be developed into an online or in-person program. 

If you'd like support in developing your programs, don't hesitate to contact us using the form below.


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