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Scenario-Based eLearning – Tips for the Adventure

Jennifer Kerwin

Did you read Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were young? As you read, you followed the protagonists as they encountered decision points. The author put the decision points in your hands. You could choose if the hero rushed into a dark room, followed a strange noise in the night or ran for the hills. In the chapter that followed, you’d learn the outcome of your decision. I loved these books as a child. They gave me control over what was to come, and if I didn’t care for how the story played out I could start over or backtrack to explore different options.

As an adult, I think of Choose Your Own Adventure books often when we create scenario-based eLearning.

In my work as an instructional designer, I strive to achieve the best knowledge transfer, engagement and interactivity, while honoring and respecting the adult learner. Encouraging learners to choose their own adventure through scenario-based eLearning is an excellent way to accomplish these goals. However, there are two sides to every coin.  If scenario-based training confuses or doesn’t respect the learner, the adventure can go wrong and the learning can be lost.

Here are a few tips that can help keep scenario-based eLearning on the path to knowledge transfer and success:

  1. Remember Adult Learning Principles

There is a lot of power in these simple principles. It’s a great idea to read them before you begin any eLearning project, especially those that are scenario-based. The principles can provide you with inspiration and ideas for how you can reach your learner and transfer knowledge using scenarios.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal-oriented
  • Adults are relevancy-oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected
  1.  Keep it relevant

The idea behind scenario-based learning activities is to provide people with a safe environment to learn from decisions, demonstrate cause-and-effect and relate to the learner’s personal experiences. Be sure to keep your scenarios relevant to the learner and the content. If scenarios are too simple or specific, the learner may not relate to the content. It’s a fine balance. Remember to ask yourself questions like:

  • What will this scenario teach the learner?
  • How will this scenario transfer knowledge?
  • What learning objective does this scenario support?

  1. No red herrings!

Recently, our team reviewed an eLearning scenario that included an option to push a “fire alarm” button. It wasn’t the right time to push the button. There was no warning of what would happen if you did push the button. So, as curious adults we all said, “See what happens if you push that button.” The button was pushed and “BAM,” we were knocked out of the course. We had to refresh the browser and start over. This type of decoy is distracting and takes the learner’s attention away from the learning. Make decisions to include what is important and avoid the unnecessary.

  1. Provide feedback and then move on.

Another eLearning scenario I’ve experienced is one that is  engaging—beautifully designed with many decision points—but provides no feedback on the decisions. I never knew if I made the correct or incorrect choice. I got to the end of the scenario, and without the feedback on mistakes or the reinforcement for making good choices, I was left thinking, “did I learn anything?” and “was that just an elaborate game?”

Feedback is a powerful tool for knowledge transfer. When it’s unclear or is overlooked entirely your scenario loses focus and misses the point of teaching.

  1. Flex your creativity.

Many eLearning programs include scenario-based questions in a multiple choice answer format. There’s nothing wrong with these questions, but sometimes they can seem more like an exam. Think of ways to make your scenarios more engaging and creative. For example, you can include interactive images, drag and drop activities, or game elements. Today’s eLearning development tools are making it easier than ever before to infuse simple scenarios with engaging elements.

  1. Don’t lose the learner in the adventure.

If a scenario is too complicated or there are numerous branches with no new knowledge, adult learners will likely give up. If a scenario is interesting and engaging, but you can never seem to get it right or find the path to the correct answer and outcome, adults will feel as if they failed and become demotivated.

This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many examples of scenario-based eLearning leave you caught in a loop of failure or an endless maze of trapped choices.

I like to remember that scenario-based eLearning is like a journey. It’s not all about where you end; what you see along the way is important too. Context is important, as well as navigation. Building eLearning that remembers the user experience (UX) and guides the learning is a key component to quality scenarios.

Scenarios offer a wonderful way to create a safe learning environment to explore while teaching a variety of skills – everything from applying basic knowledge that’s been presented to exploring more complicated skills such as decision-making. Scenarios can grab the attention, maintain engagement and transfer new practical knowledge that can be applied. If you stay on the path for good scenario-based eLearning with your learning goals in mind, you can create adventures with success.

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