Among the many changes in the way we think about learning and training is the shift from knowledge transfer to skill development. Scenario-based learning (SBL) and the inclusion of practice with feedback are much more effective approaches to the development of skill and competence.

Scenario-based learning does require planning and time to develop. The general plan is to present a series of situations (scenarios), leading to an outcome; after each situation, the learner is asked, “What do you do next?” The next situation presented is based on the learner’s response. Feedback may also be provided to guide the learner.

According to learning experience design consultant Christy Tucker, scenarios are effective for learning because they provide realistic context and emotional engagement. They can increase motivation and accelerate expertise.

The development sequence for SBL

If you were designing a traditional eLearning experience on the topic of an organization’s disciplinary policy, the most likely result would be a presentation of the steps in the policy and the documentation required, ending with a test to see if the learner could recall the details of the policy and procedure. However, this would result in knowledge transfer alone, not in development of the critical skill: actually conducting a disciplinary conversation that elicits and supports the employee’s agreement to make specific changes in behavior.

Scenario-based learning development is different from the traditional approach. The first steps in developing SBL are to get clear about the objectives—the outcome of the sequence. If the skill being developed, for example, is how to conduct a disciplinary conversation with an employee, the outcome would be the employee’s agreement to change their behavior, including the specifics of the change and when the change will happen.

The next step is to outline the progression of the scenarios. In the case of a disciplinary conversation, this would be based on the local policy and procedure, beginning with the way to start the conversation.

In the progression of the scenarios, you would sequence the decision points in the conversation. Doing this will also require identifying common mistakes and consequences; these will be important as you plan feedback to be provided when these mistakes happen in the learner’s responses.

With the outcome and decision points identified, you can then make a rough flowchart of the scenarios required in the sequence and the branches. The flowchart can be developed using mind mapping tools or simply by drawing it on paper. You can validate the flowchart in conversations with the subject matter expert (SME). If you are working with a SME to develop the scenarios, it is not uncommon for an SME who is used to working on traditional eLearning to be uncomfortable with the complexity of a branching structure; involving the SME in creating the flowchart should help the SME’s understanding. When the flowchart is validated, you will be able to begin developing the actual application, using the appropriate authoring tool or other software.

There are different models for the final SBL application. One very common model is microlearning, using video clips for delivery. Another is the Short Sims approach. The decision about the application model may drive the choice of development tool, such as:

Finishing up the details

Christy Tucker will present “Streamlining Branching Scenario Planning and Design” at the Learning Solutions Online Conference on July 8 and 9, 2020. The event includes seven more of the top sessions from the full Learning Solutions Conference that was planned for earlier this spring.

Christy will explain how to streamline your processes for branching scenarios, from initial planning through writing and creating a functional prototype. You'll learn what questions to ask SMEs and other sources to get stories and examples to incorporate in your branching scenario. You'll get tips for planning the flow of your scenario, including comparing different branching structures of varied complexity. You'll learn about a free, open-source tool that can streamline the process of planning, writing, and prototyping branching scenarios. By the end of this session, you'll have a streamlined process for planning, designing, writing, and prototyping branching scenarios that can then be built in any authoring tool you want.

You can register for this online event or get a Learning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access Christy’s session plus the other seven in the event, and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more. If you registered for Learning Solutions 2020 or Realities360 Conference & Expo, you will be granted free access to this online event.