Creating mini-scenarios—some only a couple of sentences long—can raise assessments to a new level, adding realism and harnessing the power of storytelling.

Scenario-based learning is a proven way to ask learners to apply training material and provide feedback on their choices. But developing complex branching scenarios can be resource-intensive; mini-scenarios offer an easy-to-implement path to richer assessments and interactive eLearning.

“Mini-scenarios take multiple-choice questions to the next level. They can be used instead of multiple-choice questions, where the scenario is presented, the learner makes a decision and then receives feedback, and then moves on to another scenario,” said Angela Shertzer, an instructional designer at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences.

A mini-scenario describes a realistic situation. The learner gets a little bit of background, then a problem is posed. The learner selects from several responses. The feedback provided to the learner might reflect the “natural consequences” of the learner’s choice, or it could be based on the instructional content, Shertzer said in an email interview.

“Mini-scenarios give you the opportunity to present real-world decisions that the learner needs to make in the field. By framing the decision within a story, even if it’s a short story, we frame the learning with a sense of realism,” Shertzer said. “Ideally, a mini-scenario simulates challenges a learner might meet in the real workplace or whatever real-life situation we are trying to prepare them for.”

Mini-scenarios are far less complex than the stories that typically come to mind when discussing scenario-based learning. “When compared to creating complicated immersive scenarios with lots of branching and decision points, mini-scenarios are easier to design and develop, which tends to mean they can take less time or money,” Shertzer said. L&D teams that use rapid development tools can build mini-scenarios using existing multiple-choice quiz templates, she said.

Pros and cons

Conventional multiple-choice questions can check recall of facts or material presented in a course, but they rarely test learners’ ability to apply that knowledge in realistic situations that can arise at work. That’s where mini-scenarios excel; short and easily produced, they offer a simple way to ask learners to apply what they’ve learned to a variety of potential circumstances.

“We used mini-scenarios in a healthcare ethics course to present learners with a variety of realistic situations that they may encounter as healthcare professionals,” Shertzer said. “I have also used them to help providers talk to patients who need a referral to substance abuse treatment.”

On the other hand, the two- or three-sentence scenarios do not offer a lot of depth. “Mini-scenarios may not be the best choice if you really need your learners to understand the nuances of a complicated decision-making process with a lot of possible paths,” Shertzer said. “And certainly by just presenting the learner with a little bit of context and background and only one decision point, you’re limiting the emotional response that you will be able to get from the learner.”

It’s also possible, Shertzer said, to base several mini-scenarios on a single situation; this can provide more depth or context, while still offering developers a quick and easy approach to designing effective assessments. “Last year, I worked with a client to create a series of mini-scenarios all based around the same situation. For each decision point, we provided feedback, but then looped around to the next mini-scenario,” Shertzer said. “At a certain point, it can be difficult to define where the line is between a full-blown scenario and a mini-scenario. Because learners really only had one primary path through the scenario, I consider this example to be a series of mini-scenarios.”

Tips for creating mini-scenarios

While writing mini-scenarios is relatively uncomplicated, there are some pitfalls. Shertzer offers these tips:

  • Involve SMEs: “When designing mini-scenarios, it is important that the subject matter expert help write choices or decision points that are realistic and capture the common errors that are seen in the field,” Shertzer said. She advises including typical responses along with the correct choice.

  • Provide feedback for each response; in situations where more than one option could be correct, let learners know that and explain the ramifications of each option.

  • Create a character: “If you are presenting a series of mini-scenarios, you may want to write them using a third-person character instead of second person ‘you,’” Shertzer suggested, adding that when presenting many different settings and situations, using fictional characters makes the scenarios more believable to learners.

  • Strike a balance: “In a short mini-scenario, it can be a struggle to give the learner enough context so they feel engaged in the situation without going overboard. You want to make sure the learner gets the details they need to make a decision, but not inundate them with extraneous information that they don’t need,” Shertzer said.

Learn more

Angela Shertzer is presenting “Your Game Plan for Designing and Developing Mini-Scenarios” on October 25 at DevLearn 2017 Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, which runs October 25 – 27. Register today!