The Story-Reflection Cycle

How we combine the immersive power of story and the expansive power of reflection to teach students skills that stick

The narrative provides the conditions for learner motivation, agency, and choice.

Stories have the unique ability to harness our attention. In our simulations, we leverage interactive fiction to deliver a hyper immersive world, making learning compelling and personal. The story within the simulation reveals the key questions learners must grapple with.

Learners want to know what happens next because they live through compelling scenarios that carefully weave the learner into the narrative, making them a central and integral part of the fictional world. Within the story, the learner has control over what happens and gains a sense of agency as they make choices.

Progressing through branching narratives, learner choices lead them to different scenarios and, ultimately, to different endings. By immersing themselves in their roles and committing to their decisions, learners live through a narrative arc in which they are deeply invested.


Like the real world, information gathering in the simulation often comes in the form of interacting with interesting characters who challenge and surprise them. Throughout the simulation we embed messages from experts, characters who guide learners, and interactive videos that allow learners to speak to characters.

Players make a myriad of complicated business decisions through interaction.


To move learner focus from the intriguing details of the simulation to the larger underlying concepts we prompt learners to reflect on their actions both within the story and outside of the story. This reflective space gives learners the time to consider their decisions, broaden their perspective, and get back to the story with a richer, more holistic point of view.

Reflection prompts learners to take stock of the story and weave together the lessons of the simulation.

We ask learners to reflect. We embed narrative-driven reflection prompts throughout the simulation. For instance, in a team-based simulation, teams are asked to conduct an after action review and a coach character contacts individual players and asks them to review their decisions at inflection points in the simulation.

We ask learners to explain. The narrative design prompts learners to explain what they know to other characters and to themselves. The explanation allows learners to construct an accurate picture of what they know. For instance, in the BlueSky Ventures game, we deliberately set the learner up as a teacher, helping the main character to make investment recommendations. We do this because helping others helps the learner; by advising in-game characters the learner constructs and clarifies their own understanding.

We ask learners to think about the future. Characters in the game ask learners to consider the future within the game – what is the next best move given all the available information? The learner is asked to play out future scenarios before committing to a course of action, prompting them to think through possible ramifications of any decision and to reconstruct what they know. Outside of the game, the instructional design prompts players to apply what they learned through the simulation in a real-world context. Instructor debriefs connect player decisions within the course context to major concepts and real-world scenarios.


Want to learn more?

Use BlueSky Ventures with your class, a free, 90-minute business simulation, and see how we immerse students in the game while prompting them to learn new skills.

Try it yourself first! And then use our Discussion Guide to develop a rich debrief.

For more on the power of stories see: Willingham, D. T. (2021). Why don't students like school?: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.

For more on reflection and performance see: Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G. P., & Staats, B. R. (2016). Making experience count: The role of reflection in individual learning. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, (14-093), 14-093.

For more on how we learn through explanation see: Lombrozo, T. (2006). The structure and function of explanations. Trends in cognitive sciences, 10(10), 464-470.