Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Spur Learning Through 'Curiosity Conversations'

Have you seen the movies Apollo 13, Splash and A Beautiful Mind? How about the TV series Arrested Development, 24 and Empire? Do you know what ties them all together? What makes them all similar and somehow connected?
Source: OWN - Oprah Winfrey Network

All of them are credited to award-winning Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. But more importantly, these films and TV series were a result of Grazer's "curiosity conversations." 

'Curiosity Conversations' to Expand Learning

Grazer defines curiosity as the "process of asking questions, genuine questions, that are not leading to an ask for something in return." The goals of a "curiosity conversation" is to learn an insight or the secret to someone's process or success and expand each other's lives. 

"Curiosity conversations" are basically informal discussions that Grazer had and is still having with individuals outside of the entertainment industry and which became the inspiration behind his creations.

Tips to Integrating 'Curiosity Conversations' in eLearning

Asking questions is a manifestation of one's curiosity. But other than proving someone has a thirst for learning, curiosity, or more specifically the asking of questions, is the oil we need to keep us going. Humans have been called the "ultimate learning machines," and as with any machine, we need to be maintained to continue working efficiently.

How do trainers or designers trigger curiosity in learners? Here are some suggestions:

1. Ask story questions 
In story-based elearning, story questions are powerful tools that stimulate learners to connect or relate new learning to their existing storehouse of experiences and memories. Asking what, where, when, why, and how questions-queries that can't be answered by yes or no-grants learners permission to open up or share their insights.

2. Have curiosity conversations 
In line with asking story questions, elearning professionals can try using Grazer's "curiosity conversations" to dive deep into the minds of each other to spur the creation of new ideas or simply to gain insights and new learning.

3. Provide an "exploration bonus" 
Although everyone has a baseline curiosity and curiosity itself is an intrinsic motivation, it might take more than a little bit of courage for learners to give in to it because that would mean going outside of their comfort zone. However, trainers and designers can give learners a little push by taking a leaf out of the evolution theory and provide an "exploration bonus" to learners. Reward learners for trying something new.


Curiosity is a trait which is in all of us. It's important for trainers and designers to be able to trigger or stimulate learners' interest since curiosity makes learning easier and fun for them.


Tom Stafford (June 19, 2012). "Why are We Curious?". BBC

Grubber, Matthias, et al. (October 2014). States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron.

Tip #15 - How to Add Curiosity in eLearning Stories

Tip #28 - Create Memorable Story-based Test Questions

Tip#42 - Provoking Learners with Story Questions

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Changing Behavior by Advancing Experience and Stories

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"

Monday, June 13, 2016

Keep Learners Motivated Using Hyper Stories

Click. Click. Click. Zzz.

Let’s face it. Having learners go through numerous slides or pages to learn important work-related information - in fact, any new information - is definitely one surefire way to bore your learners to death. 

When learners are bored, they learn little or nothing at all from the training. Boring e-learning de-motivates learners, making learning difficult. Motivation and curiosity are major factors that drive learners to continue, push through, or finish a course or program. Without any motivation, they drift off and refocus on something more interesting.

Cultivating learners’ curiosity when it comes to learning is very important. A study by Gruber et al. published in the journal Neuron found that people learn better when they are curious about what they’re learning.

Why You Have Bored Learners

Data does not come from thin air. It does not come from computers churning them out into great infographics. I once saw this placard from a science lab:

To understand why we have bored learners, it’s important to know what being “bored” means. According to psychological scientist John Eastwood and colleagues, boredom is “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” Eastwood et al. describes a bored person as someone who has difficulty paying attention to internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external stimuli (e.i, the learning environment). They’re also aware of the fact that they have this difficulty and believe it’s the environment’s fault. 

In short, this means learners want to be engaged but for one thing reason or another,  just can’t. As trainers and designers, it’s our job to make sure we’re able to stimulate learners’ interest enough to keep their attention on the course or lesson. Sustaining learners’ interest is important. because It’s a major factor on how much they persist in learning tasks and ultimately their success. 

This also means boring content is therefore a loss-loss situation for everyone involved. It wastes resources (time, money, effort) of the learners, the designers, and the company or organization. and It provides no benefit to learners as well (minimal to no learning equals minimal to no application).

How Hyper Stories Engage Learners

The ultimate goal when we’re designing or conducting trainings, workshops, or seminars is to have learners do a desired behavior, for instance to be able to appropriately handle an unlabeled drum. To achieve this result, we must keep our learners focused, engaged, and motivated throughout the training. The last thing we want are disengaged and zoned-out learners. 

To help learners go from minimum knowledge to having enough functional know-how about a certain topic in a short period of time means learners should have a way to quickly learn new information. This is possible with instant learning. It is the concept of teaching one idea to learners that results in one action or behavior they can apply right away. Instant learning works because it helps learners focus and keeps them motivated. One method that facilitates instant learning is the use of hyper stories.

Hyper stories are very short but very actual day-to-day events that allow learners to quickly connect the lesson to its application in real life. Hyper stories compress the typical story arch and take learners from Crisis to Resolution very quickly.
The shortest distance between Crisis and Resolution

By using hyper stories, trainers are providing learners with content that is evocative, provocative, and engaging. The use of a story that could potentially happen in real life breathes meaning to the information presented in the training. It helps learners clearly see when and how they can apply the lessons.


Hyper stories create a win-win situation for both trainers and learners. Trainers use hyper stories to keep learners engaged, motivated and focused. In the end, your learners walk away from the training with new learning they can immediately apply in their work. The distinct advantage of the approach is that learners stay glued, involved, totally focused and enjoyed the learning exchanges.


Elaine Biech. “ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals.” American Society for Training and Development, 2008

Matthias J. Gruber et al. “States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit.” Neuron, published online October 02, 2014; doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.08.060

Association for Psychological Science. “I’m Bored! - Research on Attention Sheds Light on the Unengaged Mind”. September 26, 2012

Kyong-Jee Kim. “Adult Learners’ Motivation in Self-Directed E-Learning”. August 2005

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Engaging New and Young Learners

Have you ever wondered what a young learner’s first impressions are of the learning industry? Joining me this week is guest blogger and Vignettes Learning research associate Francesca Jimenez, discussing her first-time experiences and insights that connect to her experience as a young learner. I hope we all learn something from what she shares below.

As a new learner of elearning and a neophyte in the training industry, I have noticed a few salient points that connect to other broader, relatable experiences.

Know Your Audience

In a scene from the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” the main character, Ted, enters a large university lecture hall full of students. It is his first day as an architecture professor. He begins timidly but exuberantly warms up throughout the lecture. The camera cuts to confused faces in the audience and then to another figure walking down the lecture hall stairs chiming, “Sorry, I am late class. This is Economics 101.”

Like any lecturer or speaker, trainers and webinar moderators must know their audience. Poor Ted’s knowledge ultimately left himself lost and the students disinterested, not because the content wasn’t valuable but because it simply wasn’t presented to the correct audience. Although elearning and training webinars attract certain specialists, the industries and positions represented in one session can vary greatly.

Determine Between Must-Know Knowledge and Critical Incidents

The driver's education does not highlight what to do immediately after an accident or how to file an insurance claim. Until recently, I had never gotten into a motor accident. There were no irreversible damages, but what if there had been?

Within company training materials, must-know knowledge involving critical incidents should be presented first because they have the most immediate consequences, positive or negative. It seems common sense to first teach daily procedures. However these everyday skills and knowledge can be learned experientially and through routine.

Training courses are meant to provide the right skills to effectively solve problems and prevent damaging consequences to individuals or the company as a whole.


The traditional education system stifles creativity through rigidity and an expectation to only memorize and recall. This expectation begins at a young age. As illustrated by Lennon’s anecdote, the teacher’s role has become an enforcer of the expectation instead of a cultivator of alternative ones.

The creativity that was stifled throughout the education system is the same one that is called upon in job descriptions like “critical thinking and problem solving.” But memorization and a cultivation of specific skills do not have to be mutually exclusive from personal insights and creativity. The value of individuals' insights in learning environments is as important as their differences in learning styles. Insights are more than fact and opinion; they synthesize both content and narrative.

Francesca Jimenez is a recent college graduate who specialized in psychology and music. Her research interests include the application of behavioral sciences within industrial operations such as training, learning, and technology.

Related links

Employing Story Structure and Dynamics to Engage Different Learners

Stop That Dump Truck! Ask Questions to Know What is Important for Learners

Remove the Sting of Compliance Courses: Make Them Short, Succinct, Easy to Learn

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"