I’m pretty sure we all realise that life does not follow a straight line, even in the most well structured and harmonious environments such as homes and offices with amazing cultures. So why should your eLearning content follow the one route.

Studies have shown that the amount of information and practical knowledge retained by adult learners, who have undertaken training that includes life or role specific scenarios  to re-enforce key points of the training, show significantly better retention of that knowledge than learners who completed the same training using a purely linear, read some information and remember it style of course.

The simple fact is that we retain knowledge far better, when it is presented to us in a context that fits the subject of the knowledge and it is also in a form that we can either directly relate to physically or emotionally.

This method of learning is something that is hardwired into our being from childhood. How many times have you witnessed a parent comforting a crying child and at the same time providing a subtle or in some cases flagrant “I told you so”?.

We learn by doing, by being given a scenario in which we play a direct part and in which we need to decide on our course of action usually from a number of options.  And by playing this scenario out to the end we find out if our choice or choices provided a positive, negative or indifferent outcome for us. This correlation between our actions and the realisation of a variety of potential outcomes is what engrains the knowledge we have been tasked with acquiring.

This all sounds great, but how do we go about developing eLearning content that allows us to place the learner in a scene that is relevant, get them to adopt a character they can relate to and then navigate this character through a scenario in which they will be confronted by choices that will have real world consequences?

Before we delve into the technical aspects of building a scenario, here’s a quick outline of the theory behind designing a great scenario based learning event.

I have already mentioned a couple of concepts used in building a great scenario but here is the full breakdown.

What you will need:

  1. Content – This refers to the actual learning outcomes and knowledge to be transferred. The content must be clearly defined and understood.
  2. Context – The is the real world overlay, how the content will be presented to the audience, what characters will be used and what situations will those characters find themselves in. The more relevant the context to the learners life/work the more engaged they will be with the scenario.
  3. Coaching– This is the feedback on choices made in the scenario and for every choice there should be some form of feedback. This feedback could come in many forms, as a score, as a subtle hint or observation or as a sledgehammer knockdown (Of course if using the sledgehammer make sure it’s appropriate to the content and cannot be construed as a personal attack on the learner)

What you will build:

  1. Challenges – A scenario is where the learner assumes the persona of a defined character. This character needs to be presented with challenges that relate to the learning concept being addressed.
  2. Choices – From these challenges the character then needs to be given a set of multiple choices with each of the choices providing a relevant method of dealing with the challenge that has been posed.
  3. Consequences – Behind each of the choices provided will be a consequence, a tangible outcome for having made that particular decision.

Let’s now look at the pulling a scenario together.

Broadly speaking we need two things to make this type of eLearning work:

  1. A very detailed plan for how the scenario is going to operate, what choices go with which learning outcomes and what all of the possible outcomes from each choice might be
  2. A content development tool that allows us to build such scenarios without limitations on the number of choices or on how the results of each choice resonate with the learner (I will be using Articulate Storyline as my development application)

The Plan

The cornerstone of any great piece of eLearning is a detailed and comprehensive plan and in the case of a learning scenario, that plan should include:

  • An outline of the key concepts the learner should take away
  • A break down of these concepts into individual actions where the learner will need to make a choice between a number of options
  • A break down of the consequences that might arise directly from each of the possible choices. (This will form the basis of the feedback to the learner)
  • As in real life, the consequences of our actions are sometimes immediately apparent and sometimes they are not realised until some point in the future. When designing the feedback for your scenario you should consider when and how this feedback is given. Should it be immediate? Like an angry customer leaving the shop following poor service. Or should it be delayed? Like receiving a performance evaluation at month’s end.
  • Now we can determine whether the actions (learning outcomes) will work as:
    • a complete continuum where one action leads directly to the next and the choices made will affect subsequent actions and choices
    • a grouping of linked actions where some learning outcomes share or build consequences  but others will not
    • distinct actions and outcomes that encapsulate an entire concept in one set of choices
    • Now overlay a real world context onto the actions/choices map you have produced

Tip – The context you choose is what will engage your audience and as such it should be something that the audience will automatically recognise and relate to without too much need for providing background detail. You will still need to set the scene for the course character(s) however this should be a quick and simple process, one or two screens at the most.

Now that we have our plan we can go ahead and build our scenario, many of our content screens will be developed using standard tools such as graphics, text, audio, video and so forth, but what do we do when we need to present the learner with a challenge where they can control their choices?. Using Articulate Storyline this is a very simple process. In essence we can use the very powerful Articulate Storyline Quiz building functionality. When you think about it a challenge is really just an elaborate multiple choice question. Since Articulate Storyline allows you to not only build such questions very quickly but also includes branching logic that can take the learner to a specific screen depending on the choice made, using this method of development means that Storyline will automatically populate all of the required triggers and feedback layers which in turn means that you have more time to just focus on the Content, Context and Coaching.

All well and good, but what if you wanted the choices to be made by your learner to be more graphic in nature than a standard text based multiple choice? Easy! In this case we use the Freeform Quiz templates in Storyline and build a “Pick One” freeform quiz screen. The Freeform Quiz options allow us to take any content screen and turn the graphics displayed on those screens into selectable quiz options.

Here’s an example of a basic and generic branching logic concept – click the image to launch. It’s not a very complex scenario and it contains only two branches per choice but the idea of the example is more to show you how seamlessly these scenarios work using the freeform quiz functionality noted above.  It only took a couple of hours to build in Articulate Storyline!

Ben Saunders About Ben Saunders
For the past 10 years Ben has been immersed in the world of learning and communication (and training and development), from planning and design to build and implementation, from both the client and vendor perspectives. His experience bridges the gaps between business expectation, technology and learning theory, importantly this allows Ben to translate and articulate business needs into defined learner outcomes. He has experience with various LMS implementations including Moodle, Docebo, Plateau, SABA, DOTS as well as bespoke solutions. Ben is a Solutions Designer and Certified Articulate Trainer with B Online Learning.