Last month I began discussing the all-too-common difficulty that eLearning folks face of getting the right content from subject matter experts (SMEs). And as I said last month, it’s such a typical problem that it’s a bit of an inside joke in our field. Too often we ask for information about the wigglytibbit and the SME sends either 1) a PowerPoint presentation with minimal useful information or 2) a mountain of documents (which she now expects you to use, since she’s taken the time to find them).

So last month I suggested three generic ways to get the specific content you need:

  • If you need images, provide a very specific shot list
  • If you need textual content, provide specific contextual content clues such as
    • storyboard pages
    • PowerPoint pages

This month I’m going to show you how to get content from SMEs for eLearning scenarios, but – with just a little bit of imagination – you can adapt this same technique to get content for any type of eLearning content. The simple idea for building branched scenarios comes from a great blog post by Tom Kuhlmann in his Rapid E-Learning Blog (, which I highly recommend. I published this idea in much more detail in my Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 2 (

Branched scenarios

Branched scenarios are a specific type of learning content where the learner takes one path versus another based on the choices that he or she makes. For example, you might have a scenario where the learner is learning about performance management and has to decide what to do about Audra, who is late to work for the third time in a month.

A good branched scenario lets the learner experience many of the realities of the real situation. This is extremely valuable, and it’s the reason for using branched scenarios in eLearning.

But branched scenarios can be difficult to design. Kuhlman created a “3C” model to make designing branched scenarios easier. Each scenario consists of a challenge (what the learner has to do), choices (what options the learner can select from), and consequences (the result of each choice). I asked him if I could put this in the book, because I knew it would help others design these types of scenarios.

Figure 1 shows a graphical depiction of the basic 3C model: Challenge, Choices, and Consequences.

Figure 1: Tom Kuhlmann’s 3C Model. Sources: Rapid E-Learning Blog and Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 2

Challenge, Choices, Consequences

In the example above, the learner receives a challenge (such as Audra has been late to work three times, Tomas is often rude to his coworkers, and so on). He or she selects one of three choices. The selected choice has consequences – either feedback or a new challenge based on that choice. (In the simple example above, there is no additional challenge based on the choice selected.)

In the simple 3C example, the learner gets to the consequence and that’s the end of the branching. To add additional branching, you can add another 3C structure at the end of any or all of the desired consequences. Figure 2 shows what the 3C model looks like when you build additional challenges onto the end of previous challenges.

Figure 2: Tom Kuhlmann’s 3C Model. Sources: Rapid E-Learning Blog and Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 2

In case you’re still a bit fuzzy about how this works, Table 1 shows two examples of a challenge, three choices, and thee consequences. Challenge 2 ends in a new challenge (not shown).

Table 1. Example 3Cs




Challenge 1: Audra has been late to work for the third time this month. Prior to today, you haven’t spoken to her about this problem.

Choice 1: You bring her into your office and ask her why she is having problems getting to work on time.

Consequence 1: She tells you that her car broke down and the bus sometimes doesn’t come on time. You discuss how she can get her car fixed so she can get to work on time.

Choice 2: You tell her that you are writing this up and putting it in her personnel file.

Consequence 2: She starts to cry and returns to her desk.

Choice 3: You tell her that she will be fired the next time she is late.

Consequence 3: She starts to cry and returns to her desk.

Challenge 2: People in the office have started to complain to you that Tomas is rude to them. You have not seen this for yourself.

Choice 1: The next time someone complains to you, you call him out on his behavior in front of the team.

Consequence 1: Tomas storms out of the office.

Choice 2: The next time someone complains to you, you bring him into your office and discuss what you are hearing.

Consequence 2: Tomas is defensive and says people are picking on him.

Choice 3: You make a point of being out in the office area more often in order to see what is happening.

Consequence 3: You see that Tomas can be quite caustic and mean spirited and ask him to come into your office to discuss this. Tomas comes into your office and immediately asks why you are picking on him. (Start of 2nd C).

Getting these elements from your SME

I know I was a little long-winded in getting to this point, but a lot of people need help figuring out how to write scenarios. I also find Clive Shepard’s discussion on writing scenarios (starts here: extremely valuable.

One of the biggest mistakes that we make when getting content from SMEs is that we simply aren’t specific enough in what we are asking for.

When asking for content for scenarios, the trick is to ask for SPECIFC CONTENT. One way is to ask for stories about problems they have dealt with, or about times when there they have faced problems, and take notes about the parts they tell you that fit into the 3C model.

Or you can use question templates (see the types of templates I discussed last month). Table 2 shows an alternate template that you might use with SME’s to get content for the 3Cs.

Table 2. 3Cs SME content template

What are examples of typical difficulties people have when they are first doing _________?

For each difficulty, list some right and wrong ways that people handle this difficulty. (Put an “R” by the right way)

What are the typical consequences of each handling method?
















To be perfectly honest, you are probably not going to be able to hand this to a SME and have them know exactly what to give you right off the bat. The first time you may need to work with them to get what you need, and you may need to show an example or two. But after a walk-through or two, this type of template will make perfect sense to them, and you will be able to get the exact content you need for 3C scenarios.

This same methodology is useful to get other kinds of content from SMEs. The trick is to ask for specific content that aligns with what you need, not general content. Try using this same technique for getting content for good introductions, stories, wrap-ups, and such. The trick is to frame it in specific questions that evoke what you are looking for, not general requests for general content.

If you have additional ideas, feel free to add them in the comments section.