Moving from the military to the civilian workforce presents veterans with many challenge, key among them a significant culture shift: career paths, leadership styles, and collegial relationships are dramatically different in the military culture than in most modern workplaces, according to Heide Abelli, a senior vice president, content product manager at Skillsoft. That’s why retraining or upskilling veterans requires a different focus than working with other populations.

Skillsoft’s approach—a heavy emphasis on scenario-based learning—works for all populations and demographics and is applicable in any industry, Abelli said. But she’s especially proud of the company’s focus on (and success with) veteran populations, both those seeking to succeed in their jobs and those who are unemployed and transitioning to civilian jobs.

“The military has very clear career progressions. It is a very defined process for how individuals in the military can grow professionally and build their careers,” Abelli said. On the other hand, in civilian organizations, “The individual is much more responsible for designing their career path and figuring out what potential growth paths might be professionally.”

The emphasis on personal responsibility for designing a career path and advocating for oneself also flies in the face of the demeanor expected from service members, who may be hesitant to speak up or challenge an officer. One reason for this difference is that “Leadership styles in the military tend to be somewhat different from what we are now finding in most organizations,” Abelli said. “There is much more of a command-and-control type leadership style, a more maybe authoritative leadership style, which is used in the military for very good reasons. However, when you get into civilian life, there are many different leadership styles that you’ll find in organizations. And most companies now are moving toward what I would call collaborative leadership.” Abelli added that individuals coming out of military service may not know when to speak up or how to do so appropriately.

The issue arise in both employee-to-boss relationships and peer relationships in the workplace. Learning to network, to persuade when one has no direct authority, to give and accept feedback or coaching—these are all “soft skills” that are in high demand in modern workplaces, Abelli said—and all are areas where the culture change can be “jarring” for veterans.

An advantage of scenario-based eLearning is that it provides learners with opportunities to “understand quickly, ‘Okay this is how it works, this is how it’s done,’ ” Abelli said. “If I can show you a scenario of somebody giving feedback or of somebody managing up to a boss or cultivating relationships with peers and how that actually happens in a real-life work context using scenario, then I can quickly accelerate your learning path in that cultural challenge dimension.”

Scenario-based learning is effective

Scenario-based learning and eLearning that tends heavily toward a narrative or storytelling approach are increasingly seen as ways to engage learners in material that is relevant and applicable. According to researcher John M. Carroll, scenarios:

  • Evoke reflection
  • Are both concrete and flexible
  • Afford multiple views of an interaction
  • Promote work-oriented communication among stakeholders

By providing realistic examples of, say, difficult conversations or ways to promote an idea or make a suggestion without being confrontational, scenarios offer learners safe, low-risk environments to learn, try approaches (and make mistakes). This allows them to develop and practice skills that are critical to obtaining and succeeding in civilian workplaces.

Scenarios and simulations are used extensively in military training, so the format is familiar to many veterans. Simulation training is also used in medical, trauma, disaster, and other training areas where errors can be costly or risky.

Scenario-based training allows learners to instantly see the consequences of a decision or action and increase their understanding of a situation quickly, without risk. “As compared to real world experience, this accelerated learning is one of the unequaled advantages of such  products,” according to researchers Siddiqui, Khan, and Akhtar.

Abelli echoes the research findings. “Our training content specifically is so valuable for the veteran population because it is about getting people up a learning curve who don’t have those years of experience in the actual workplace setting,” she said. “It’s low risk for them because they’re not coming in and experiencing a negative consequence in a real-life job, but they can see things play out both positively and negatively in a scenario to give them that learning quickly in the context of what they are likely going to be experiencing in the workplace.”

Scenario-based learning can be used for both soft skills training and for “hard skills” needed for success in a modern corporate office. This might include introducing veterans to collaboration tools, like Yammer and Slack, or office tools like Microsoft Office and Project, that, while ubiquitous in the corporate world, might not have been available to service members in their military roles, Abelli said.

Skillsoft has developed a new leadership training program that is 100 percent scenario-based, as well as fully accessible to veterans with disabilities, she said. The new approach uses microlearning and allows learners to proceed at their own pace. Scenarios “work well for everybody. But I think that veterans in particular can benefit from scenario-based approaches because they don’t have that long rich experience in the workplace,” Abelli said.

Skillsoft works both with corporations aiming to upskill employees who are veterans and with programs helping unemployed veterans prepare for the civilian work world. One example is the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, where unemployed veterans can master skills through certificate programs and other business curriculum courses. Abelli said that program facilitators are encouraged to create a blended learning framework, where veterans complete the fundamental courses on their own, then come together into discussion groups to talk about the scenarios and themes raised in the eLearning. Metrics that Skillsoft has gathered show that a vast majority of participants felt more confident in their ability to advance and to succeed at their jobs after completing the eLearning.

Upskilling veterans is vital to reintegrating them into civilian life and work; scenario-based eLearning can help them bridge the culture gap while learning valuable skills that will enable them to grow their careers and flourish in a collaborative, team-oriented modern workplace.


Carroll, John M. 1999. “Five Reasons for Scenario-Based Design.” IEEE Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Siddiqui, Atiq, Mehmood Khan, and Sohail Akhtar. 2008. “Supply chain simulator: A scenario-based educational tool to enhance student learning.” Computers & Education 51 pp. 252–261.

Steadman, Randolph H. et al. 2006. “Simulation-based training is superior to problem-based learning for the acquisition of critical assessment and management skills.” Critical Care Medicine 34(1) pp. 151–157.