Challenges to eLearning include the isolation of asynchronous, stand-alone online courses, disconnection of learning content from actual job performance and conditions, lack of practice opportunities, and the boredom inherent in compliance training. The result is learning that leaves employees disengaged, bored, or demotivated about completing the training, remembering what they have learned, or applying new skills and knowledge on the job.

Many of these challenges come as the result of limitations inherent in authoring tools, and others are the effect of bad examples — poor models of eLearning — that learners (and designers) may have experienced in the past. Fortunately, there are also many ways to avoid or to fix these motivation killers.

This article will introduce you to scenarios. Scenarios are a methodology for quickly creating and delivering content to an audience based on needs and feedback. I have included links to past Learning Solutions articles that explain why scenarios work, some of the different types of scenarios, and how to use them. Finally, if you want to learn more about this incredibly powerful technique that makes eLearning more effective and easier to create, there is information about an upcoming event that will add to your ability to make your eLearning more interesting and relevant to your audience.

What's a scenario?

A scenario is a type of story; it presents learners with a situation, in a way that engages them and places them in the situation. Scenarios are closely related to microlearning, and in fact some microlearning employs short scenarios as the main method of delivery. Learners are able to make decisions, solve problems, apply knowledge, and practice skills. The scenario presents challenges like the ones the learners will face in real-life situations.

Scenarios do not require animations, video, or sophisticated simulations, although they can be supported with those media. However, many scenarios can be done with simple text and graphics. What is required is content related to the learning objectives and to performance requirements on the job.

Scenarios have a simple approach to design. It is similar to the three-act structure that screenwriters and television writers use: setup, confrontation, resolution.

  • Setup: the scenario models the real world where the learner works
  • Confrontation: the learner encounters a problem
  • Resolution: the learner solves the problem

An instructional designer does not need to be a playwright to create an effective scenario. Keep the setup simple, obviously fictitious, and relevant to the type of work environment. You may want to be able to use the setup as the basis for more than one scenario within that environment, but don’t overload the initial setup with a lot of detail. A scenario is not a case study.

The confrontation also needs to be simple, and should only involve one teaching point as the basis for the resolution.

In most scenarios, the learner will be offered a small number of possible resolutions to choose from. If your scenario will be used in an online setting that supports discussion between learners, you may also be able to offer an opportunity for a short answer from the participant.

Strategies for scenario use

Here are some of the many options that are available for scenario use (there are many more).

Branching scenarios are useful for many situations where a skill is difficult to master on the job. Examples include technical skills, such as trouble-shooting, and soft skills that require face-to-face interaction and emotional awareness. Examples of these kinds of soft skills include dealing with difficult customers, delivering bad news, and correcting employee performance. Branching scenarios are useful in challenging situations, such as helping military veterans enter the workforce. Branching scenarios that feature realistic characters and situations can help employees build these skills.

  • Interactive video can support branching scenarios by stopping at key points to ask the viewer how to respond, and offering buttons or hotspots that link to the section of the video that covers their answer.
  • Short sims, which can be built with Branch Track or Storyline, are another way to build branching scenarios that do not require video or animations. In Learning Solutions we have published several articles on short sims and strategies for using them.

Several mini-scenarios based on a single situation can provide depth and context, and offer a quick, easy, and effective alternative to multiple-choice questions.

Learn more

This has been a brief summary covering what scenarios are and some ways to create and use them. The eLearning Guild is offering an online conference February 19-20, 2020, Making Learning Stick. Session 701 of the event, “Go Beyond Boring: Creating Scenario-Based Learning That Engages Participants,” will provide additional additional information and technique, including:

• Affecting emotions with scenarios to make participants care about the content

• Keeping participants engaged

• Practicing relevant decision-making skills in scenarios

• Incorporating storytelling.

Registration for Making Learning Stick is now open online.