Changing Behavior by Advancing Experience and Stories – Tip #99

Share this article
A client from the U.S. Department of State once told me:

I have never looked at learning this way. In many ways, I am guilty of focusing on the content to impart to learners and missing the crux of the change in behavior, the ultimate goal of learning and training.

Why does advancing experiences and telling their own stories help the agents behave as expected on the job?

Neural Pathways, Flight and Alternate Reality

The chart above shows an event and incident which presents an experience to the learners. Going through this experience and seeing the consequences help intensify and generate more experience.

Scientists tell us that even in imagined ways, our brains create neural pathways to record experiences even if we have not actually been through the event. From a psychological viewpoint, people are capable of flight. Only humans can travel in their minds. By doing so, they vividly see the alternate realities as shown in the consequences of their actions. We store the experiences in stories, and story questions retrieve and repeat the cycle.

Essentially, our brains are constantly advancing experience. This is how we adapt and survive. 

Story Questions as Enablers

Story questions act as enablers. The more we ask the questions the more we re-live and improve our stories and experience. Our experiences undergo a process of refinement.  Both our stories and experiences advance further.

Application in Learning Design

In the sequence of scenes below, the learner is drawn into the situation or incident. Story questions are asked. Pulling the learner into the story within the lesson helps advance the experience in multiple ways and assists the learner to mentally prepare in case the event or a similar situation occurs.

Some ideas for consideration

  1. Reflect on how you use advancing experience in your lesson design.
  2. Review your content and select an incident or event that can bring the learner into a story situation.
  3. Present the scenes of the event, incident or story.
  4. Question the leader’s story questions to help them intensify the experience.
  5. Repeat the process a few times using different incidents relevant in real-life situations.

Change in behavior is one of the most important values for training people, not delivering content. Advancing the experience in the minds of the learners help them prepare to respond when faced with the actual situation.


Hassabis et al. (2007). Using Imagination to Understand the Neural Basis of Episodic Memory. The Journal of Neuroscience

Buckner RL (2010). The role of the hippocampus in prediction and imagination. Annual Review of Psychology

Tip#91 – 3 Story Sources for Deeper Learning

Tip#94 – How to Design Unobtrusive Test Questions

Tip#42 – Provoking Learners with Story Questions

Ray Jimenez, PhD

Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”