Scenarios, as teaching aids, are one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of eLearning course creators. When developed properly, Scenarios encourage critical thinking, help course attendees to learn by doing, stimulate learner emotion by linking them to specific outcomes, and give learners a way to practice what they’ve learned, and improve their level of understanding. When eLearning content requires participants to make important decisions, there’s no better tool than Scenarios to help accomplish that objective. But to do that, course builders must create effective scenarios.
The genesis of an eLearning Scenario
Before we share some expert tips and techniques for creating effective scenarios, let’s cover some scenario-writing basics. Don’t just start writing your scenarios! Before doing that, it’s important to know your audience, understand what the course is all about, and be clear about what you wish the scenario to accomplish. This knowledge will help you more effectively use the four building blocks of scenarios:
- The People: It’s important to build scenarios around people who, in the real world, learners will interact with
- The Situation: Like real-world people, effective scenarios must address real-life situations
- The Problem: eLearning courses typically arm learners with the knowledge and skills required to address specific problems or challenges. It’s important, therefore, for scenarios to offer learners a set of choices or actions available to address those problems/challenges
- The Outcome: Every good scenario must result in an outcome. If a scenario doesn’t help learners appreciate the consequences of their decisions or actions, it will not be an effective learning tool
Most effective scenarios don’t aim to produce right/wrong outcomes. The ideal scenario should help learners experience a situation, challenge, or process so that they finish the course with a much better understanding of how to deal with similar circumstances in the real world. The best scenarios, therefore, are those that result in a learner deriving multiple “solutions” to the challenges set out by the scenario.
Building Effective Scenarios: Tips, Techniques, and How To’s
Use the following tips and techniques when putting together your scenarios:
- Research it thoroughly: Scenarios based on the hypothetical are often less credible to learners. Illustrating “make belief” situations, which have unbelievable outcomes, are also ineffective teaching tools. So, when creating your scenarios, invest time in researching everything about a situation, and weave that information into your scripts as you create the scenario. For instance, your course may lose credibility if you set up a scenario, about selling outdoor wear (e.g., flip-flops or sandals), in a snow-covered environment. If your target audience is responsible for selling such products, researching the features of the product may lead you to (rightly!) set the use case of your scenario in an indoor setting.
- Make it realistic: It’s easy to find free online resources that speak more generically to a subject. Learners, however, usually gravitate to eLearning because they want a more “realistic” learning experience. One way to give learners what they want is to create content that revolves around realistic scenarios applicable to their needs. Do this by identifying real-life challenges, problems, and situations, so that learners can apply the knowledge from your course. Then, build your scenarios around those situations.
- Make it relevant: Sometimes, even scenarios that relate to a learner’s business, job, or work situation may not be directly relevant to what a learner is looking for. For instance, creating broad-based scenarios, applicable specifically to the retail industry, may not necessarily help marketing professionals who are taking your course. However, they may find scenarios dealing with the challenges of introducing a new product, or ones dealing with the dos and don’ts of making sales pitches to prospective clients, more relevant to their roles.
- Make it relatable: Role-based scenarios that learners relate to are more effective at achieving knowledge transference. So, instead of using generic roles and titles, such as “Manager A” or “Sales Rep 1” in your scenarios, use characters and designations that your learners can relate to. For instance, use a position title that’s prevalent in the learners’ org – e.g., “Leisurewear Product Manager”, or “Sporting goods Sales Associate” – so your learner will relate to the characters.
- Show real-world consequences: A highly effective scenario is one that not only demonstrates good behavior and key teachable points; but it also highlights real-world consequences related to the substance of the scenario. For instance, in a scenario depicting sound sales presentation techniques, it’s not enough to underscore “…and that’s the right way to close a deal!”. Instead, scenarios that illustrate what happens in real-world situations, such as winning a promotion (due to a successful deal closure), or missing out on a lucrative bonus (due to losing a prospective client), will more strongly resonate with your learners.
- Make it challenging: A good scenario effectively challenges learners to think – rather than encouraging them to just follow a given path along with the scenario. For instance, simplistic scenarios, with binary outcomes, are less likely to engage learners to exercise judgment and make tough decisions. Instead, build scenarios that challenge learners to use much of the knowledge they’ve acquired through the course. To accomplish that, create your scenarios so they don’t always result in a single “right” or “wrong” outcome. Instead, good scenarios force learners to use critical thinking to derive the most appropriate resolution of a situation.
- Link them to learning objectives: Ensure that each scenario is linked to specific learning objectives. Typically, each scenario shouldn’t be overly broad to cover too many LOs. Making the scenario wide-ranging can, in fact, get too complicated for the scenario writer, and may even confuse the learner.
Putting it All Together
Creating great scenarios as a “stand-alone” exercise will likely not accomplish much – neither for the scenario writer, nor the learners who engage with those scenarios. Make sure your scenarios are rooted in a good storyline (plot), that learners can follow. Picking random situations upon which to base the scenarios, regardless of whether they are relevant to the learner’s work environment, may lead to learner disengagement.
Sequencing is vital to effective scenario deployment. Effective scenario-building is an art, which links one set of scenarios to another, to accomplish a set of learning objectives. Like each subsequent chapter in a good novel, every scenario must build upon its predecessors.
Sequence your scenarios so that learners have the opportunity to apply knowledge, learned through earlier scenarios, to each subsequent scenario. This strategy mimics the real world, where employees learn from past experiences, and put that knowledge to good use when they encounter the same – or similar – situations the next time.
To learn more about creating behavior changing and result-oriented courses, be sure to check out the Instructional Design for ELearning program.