In our previous article (“Developing Scenarios with RED Programs: Troubleshooting for Computer Lab Staff,”), we discussed the benefits and challenges of rapid eLearning development (RED) programs such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline and the reasons for choosing scenario-based learning strategies. In this article, we show how a similar combination supported development of a more challenging set of skills: dealing with intoxicated restaurant patrons.

Some points from the previous article

Let’s briefly review a few key points before we move on to the current example. The benefits we identified previously for RED programs include:

  • Easy content creation and updates. It is relatively easy to learn to use RED programs. With RED programs, even novice eLearning developers can quickly create and update their eLearning content.
  • Reduced development costs. When using RED programs to create eLearning content, costs may be reduced by using fewer personnel such as subject matter experts (SMEs) and developers, compared to traditional eLearning development that requires additional expertise from graphic designers and programmers.
  • Easy tracking and improved compatibility. It is easy to design content to track content completion. eLearning standards such as SCORM allow developers to reduce compatibility issues between the content and the Learning Management Systems (LMSs) that will host the content.

At the same time, eLearning developers should also avoid the challenges associated with using RED programs, such as:

  • Limited practice activity types. When relying on the templates provided by RED programs, most practice activities are suitable only for reinforcing comprehension-level knowledge.
  • Limited opportunities for types of assessment. Assessment may be limited to multiple-choice, matching, and sorting questions that are provided by RED programs’ templates.
  • Dependent on learner investment. As in most eLearning situations, learners must be self-directed and self-motivated to focus and complete the content. eLearning products quickly developed with RED programs do not necessarily make learning outcomes easier or faster.

Integration of branching strategies may help designers avoid the challenges of RED program reliance, while increasing learner attentiveness and improving the transfer of higher cognitive learning outcomes associated with problem solving, decision-making skills, or work-based practice (Andrew, 2013; Keramida, 2015). Scenario-based learning provides opportunities for learners to go through progressively complex experiences as they make decisions, receive feedback, and experience the consequences of their decisions (Clark, 2013).

A more challenging scenario

In the previous article we also discussed scenario-based learning with simple branching structures, and provided an example, Stop the Beeping, that we designed to help improve technical support provided by computer lab staff. The emotional component of this situation, dealing with uninterruptible power supply system problems, is pretty low.

This time, we are upping the emotions with a different kind of problem to solve. This is another example of scenario-based learning, one that uses role-playing as the learning strategy.  This is also a branching structure design, but constructed in a slightly more complex pattern in order to deal with a more complex situation involving decisions, emotions, and challenging dialogue.

Once again, novice eLearning developers created this example with a RED program. The developers had no more than six months of experience with the program.

Managing Responsible Service

Managing Responsible Service is a scenario-based eLearning module based on a performance gap identified from a national, casual dining, Asian food restaurant. Like many restaurants, this company serves alcohol to guests of legal age. However, when guests leave the restaurant intoxicated, the company runs the risk of facing steep legal ramifications, in addition to risking the guests’ safety. Depending on local laws, restaurant personnel (bartenders, managers, servers) may also be exposed to legal liabilities, including fines or jail time, if they do not make the correct decisions and take the correct actions.

In order to mitigate these costly problems, the restaurant managers must be able to prevent customer intoxication whenever possible, interact with intoxicated guests, and stop alcohol service if necessary. The tasks that the restaurant managers should be able to perform include: 1) not over-serving guests, 2) recognizing when guests arrive intoxicated, 3) discussing responsible service with employees (ensuring all employees who serve alcohol are aware of the guidelines), 4) de-fusing difficult situations, and 5) stopping alcohol service to intoxicated guests.

The recent performance analysis identified that some restaurant managers were unable to perform these tasks consistently in a way that protects the company and the guests. The designer, a novice eLearning developer, created an eLearning module to help close this performance gap.

Selection decision: which RED program?

The eLearning developer had to consider a number of factors when deciding which tools to use to create this eLearning module. Considerations included: learner engagement, graphic capabilities, and simplicity of use (for both the designer and the end user). The developer considered using either Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline. While both programs are excellent tools, the designer ultimately chose to work in Storyline.  

The decision was made owing primarily to the fact that the company uses Storyline, and also because, while both programs can achieve learner engagement and have high quality graphic capabilities, Storyline is built in a way that is easy for a novice eLearning developer to pick up and use. The interface is similar to other Microsoft products, and adding in complex triggers with conditions (a necessary addition for branching scenarios) is straightforward.

Scenario-based eLearning for role-playing

The complete module is composed of two parts: First, a knowledge-based unit that provides the restaurant managers with the standards they must uphold and covers important points for interacting with intoxicated guests, ways to identify if guests are intoxicated, and the legal ramifications they might face if they fail to perform. Second, a scenario-based unit that gives the managers role-play experience of interacting with guests, and which contains multiple branching options and an outcome for each. The eLearning module is an opportunity for the managers to practice their interactions with guests prior to in-class group discussion and assessment.

For the purposes of this article, we will discuss only part two, the scenario-based unit, which contains three scenarios (Figure 1). As learners complete each scenario, they make response selections. These responses vary from most appropriate, following all policies; to inappropriate, which display a willingness to serve alcohol to already intoxicated guests, or do not uphold the standards and policies. After making their response selection, the program will display the guest’s reaction. This continues until learners complete the scenario and receive their consequence (either good or bad).

Figure 1: The overall scenario-based branching structure of Managing Responsible Service

For example, after the learner selects Scenario 1 (Figure 2), it starts with a few slides providing the scenario’s background information: 

It’s a busy Saturday evening and even though you’ve only been a Manager for a year, you’re the senior Manager working tonight. Your fellow Manager, Kate, has only been a Manager for four months. You’re helping prepare trays for service when Ripley, your lead Hostess, calls you over the headset to tell you that two guests have arrived intoxicated, and she’s not sure what to do.

The learner continues the scenario to play the manager’s role and greets the guests by selecting text “Hi folks, what brings you in today?” or “Welcome, you folks look like you've been partying tonight.” Then one of the guests responds, “It’s her birthday. She’s 30, so we’re here to party! Woohoo!”

Figure 2: The scenario selection slide 

Now, on the following slide, the learner is asked which one among three response options is the most appropriate for the manager when interacting with these guests (Figure 3); each response provides the learner with a different guest reaction (Figures 4 through 6). In Figure 3, the top response, serving more alcohol to intoxicated guests, is an inappropriate action, and the learner is taken to a slide showing negative consequences. The response option in the middle is the most appropriate one; it gives the learner 10 points. The response option at the bottom is neither good nor bad and gives no points. After selecting the second or third response option, the learner receives the guests reaction; they are upset for being denied alcohol service. Regardless how upset the guests may be, the learner, playing the restaurant manager’s role, is supposed to provide the intoxicated guests with an adequate explanation as to why they cannot be served alcohol and then serve them as best they can.

Figure 3: Three responses that the manager can choose from

Figures 4-6: Different guest reactions to the manager’s greeting responses 1, 2, and 3

Thus, on the following slide, the learner is asked to select one of the three explanation options (Figure 7). The option in the middle is the best explanation and gives the learner 10 points; the option on the top is the second best one, giving the learner five points; the option at the bottom is not a good one and the learner gets no points. Since all three responses from the manager are to deny alcohol service to the already-intoxicated guests, the learner sees that the guests are upset and say that they will leave the restaurant (Figures 8 through 10).

Figure 7: Three types of explanations that the manager can provide to guests

Figures 8-10: Different guest reactions to the manager’s refusal-to-serve-alcohol responses 1, 2, and 3

The following slide asks the learner what the manager should do for the guests, knowing that they are leaving the restaurant intoxicated, even though they haven’t dined there (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Three ending actions that the manager can choose from

The option on the top is the best action to take and it gives the learner 10 points; the option in the middle is the second best one, giving the learner five points; the option at the bottom is not a good one and does not give the learner any points. Selecting any of the options takes the learner to the consequences slide of this scenario with final feedback, which is stored on different layers triggered by the number of points earned. For example, there are layers showing positive and negative outcomes:

  • If the score is high (between 10 and 30), the positive outcome layer is activated by the following Slide Trigger setting: Show layer Outcome A When the timeline starts If ScoreScenario1 is between 10.00 and 30.00.
  • If the score is low (between 0 and five), the negative outcome layer is activated by the following Slide Trigger setting: Show layer Outcome B When the timeline starts If ScoreScenario1 is between 0 and 5.00.

This eLearning module is available at

The two other scenarios, designed similarly to Scenario 1, provide additional role-playing opportunities to practice how to handle different difficult situations the managers may encounter at the restaurant.

Final comments

In this article and the previous one, we presented two samples of scenario-based eLearning products that novice eLearning developers created with Articulate Storyline. As previously noted, novice eLearning developers tend to find Articulate Storyline more user-friendly than other RED programs (Chyung, Conley, Gibson, and McWatters, 2015).

Although the two eLearning samples that we presented in these articles were both created with Articulate Storyline, we are not asserting that Storyline is a preferred choice for all novice eLearning developers or for all types of scenario-based eLearning development.

An important takeaway for us from this eLearning development is that, as in any instructional design project, the overall success of rapid eLearning development depends on preparing a solid storyboard before jumping into development. It is particularly important to clearly lay out the sequence of conversation and feedback with a branching structure when incorporating scenario-based learning in eLearning design.


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Hofmann, J., and Nanette Miner. Tailored Learning: Designing the Blend That Fits. East Peoria, IL: American Society of Training and Development. 2009.

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All Contributors

Kate Aument

Instructional Designer, University of Illinois at Chicago

Valerie Gardin

IT Project Specialist, Spelman College

Seung Youn

Professor, College of Engineering at Boise State University