The rise of scenario-based training and gamification in eLearning demands creative writing skills that were not necessary in years past. Writers, designers, and developers are being tasked to stretch their writing skills far beyond technical content writing in order to create storylines for characters.
Though it may seem that having a degree in writing or a published novel is quickly becoming a necessity for designers and developers, this level of creative writing experience is not a prerequisite for creating engaging learning. Simply developing simple scenarios with the basic three-act structure used in screenwriting can create a valid framework for content. The three-act structure consists of the setup, confrontation, and resolution.
The setup is the beginning of the story where you describe the existing world and reveal the main characters. In training, you would most likely model this world after the real world in which the learner operates. For example, if the task at hand is to create scenario-based training that teaches a warehouse employee how to legally address a chemical spill according to EPA regulations, then the world you would create in the setup is a warehouse where hazardous materials are stored. You could introduce this world through the main characters by creating a new-hire situation where a seasoned employee is onboarding the new employee. Once the scene is set with the world and characters, a problem occurs that ends the first act and begins the second.
In the second act, known as the confrontation, the characters encounter and resolve problems. The inciting incident is the first problem, and often the overarching problem, that challenges the world as they know it. The characters either resolve the issue or resign themselves to the new status quo the issue created. In training, the problem is directly related to an objective and the character ultimately resolves the issue. For example, in the warehouse scenario, the inciting incident could be a chemical spill that prompts the characters to take action. In this example, you would use the seasoned employee character to address the steps of the process with the new-hire character. This allows you, the designer, to explain each step an employee takes when encountering a chemical spill.
Because most of the story exists in the second act, so will the bulk of the content. The second act most likely will include multiple problems, with each problem addressing one or more objectives in the course. For instance, while investigating the spill, the character discovers two types of chemicals that, according to regulations, should not be stored together. This revelation allows you to address another learning objective through the story. Once you have addressed all the objectives by allowing the characters to solve the problems, the second act concludes.
Finally, the third act, the resolution, is the end of the story where the main issue (usually the problem introduced by the inciting incident) is resolved. This resolution ushers in the lessons learned in the story. In training, the designer recaps important information and objectives addressed in the course, using the characters to reiterate key points while closing out the scenario.
Applying the three-act structure to scenario-based training enables designers to structure the content in a familiar storytelling format without having to dive deep into backstories, plotlines, and more complicated storytelling techniques. This basic structure includes an introduction to the characters and their world, the problems they must face and resolve, and the results of resolving those problems. In a drive to create more engaging training for a learner, the three-act structure is the perfect vehicle to deliver story-driven content.