Do you remember a time when you heard the words, “Can I give you some feedback?” Perhaps it was your teacher, your boss, or just a well-meaning friend. But chances are you remember the sinking feeling you got in your stomach as soon as you heard those words. You knew what was coming next: constructive criticism about a problem or an issue you could have handled differently. Interestingly enough, your learners probably feel the same way.

It turns out, even if we deliver feedback in the most gentle and kind way, we often create a stress reaction that actually impedes the receiver’s performance rather than improves it (Rock, 2009). When we sense that someone is trying to change us, we feel threatened. Rock suggests that rather than focusing on giving feedback about a problem, we should encourage people to gain their own insights by shifting their attention towards the solution.

What does this mean for DecisionSim authors? This is where we can really leverage the power and flexibility of narrative branching simulations. For example, we can create alternate branches that provide our learners with decision points. At those junctures, we empower our learners to make choices: some will be great, some not so great, and some might be pretty bad. Then, even though we might be tempted to give learners feedback and save them from making poor choices, we actually refrain from judgment and allow them to follow the path they have chosen.

Then, after a bit, we show our learners the consequences of their choices and provide them with a chance to reflect. Then we empower them to discover a solution by retracing their steps and making a different decision.

This approach is very different from the instruction most of us received in school. We are so tempted to say what our teachers told us: “Yes, that is correct!” or “No, that’s wrong.” Instead, in this new approach, we show learners the results of their decisions, help them reflect, and then encourage them to try again and discover solutions on their own.

Just last week, I reviewed a DecisionSim simulation that uses this approach with a twist. Like many other simulations, it allows learners to go down alternate paths until they see the consequences of their decisions. The twist is that after they reflect, learners are empowered to decide where in the simulation they want to return in order to try again and make a new decision. With this approach, learners are given autonomy and control and are encouraged to find their own insights and solutions.

The next time you’re tempted to write school-like feedback to another multiple choice question, ask yourself: “Is this an opportunity to empower my learners to discover the solution on their own?”

To learn more, read: Your Brain at Work by David Rock