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5 tips for budget-friendly (but high-impact) elearning scenarios

Using scenarios in your elearning can be an effective way to increase engagement and really drive home key learning messages. But without careful thought and planning, they can become expensive. LEO Learning Consultant, Alex Steer, shares her top five tips for creating great elearning scenarios without blowing your budget.

Planning is a key part of creating elearning scenarios

Elearning scenarios tip #1: Use scenarios for the right reasons

Scenarios are a great use of your time and budget – if you use them where they’re going to have the most impact.

Scenarios deliver learning by allowing learners to explore the consequences of their choices and decisions.

For this reason, scenarios are often best used in soft skills or behaviour change-focused courses, where the nuances of right and wrong decisions need to be examined. They’re less useful for process-orientated subjects where there is clearly a right or wrong decision.

So if your learning outcomes are focused around:

  • Understanding safe or appropriate behaviour in complex situations
  • Having difficult conversations or managing people
  • Driving behaviour change in a group of learners where current behaviours are entrenched
  • Exploring diversity and equality matters

Then using scenarios in your course is a good decision.

Elearning scenarios tip #2: Keep it simple

Scenarios can vary from the simple to the very complex.

Broadly, there are two types:

  • Single self-contained scenarios where one decision has to be made
  • Branching scenarios that explore multiple decision points and consequences

It perhaps goes without saying that branching scenarios are more complicated to design, build and test. In a branching scenario, there are a variety of paths a learner can explore, and all of these paths need to be carefully designed and tested.

If you’re on a budget or short of time, it’s best to keep it simple. While a branching scenario can give you great scope to explore the nuances of a range of decisions, it’s very easy to underestimate the time and resources to truly do them justice.

But you can still get great results with less complex designs. For example, you can use a sequence of single scenarios to build an engaging story.

Or for the more adventurous, you can implement a semi-branching solution. Below is an example:

this diagram shows a slightly more complex way of creating an elearning scenario

You can see that only one decision prompts a further decision point and incorrect answers are prompted to try again. This is a manageable way to introduce more detail.

Elearning scenarios tip #3: Plan and map

Whatever type of scenario you end up creating, planning is key.

If you’re not an expert on the subject of your course, your first step is to work with a subject matter expert (SME) to help you map out realistic and challenging scenarios.

Use your learning objectives to guide you. A single scenario is most likely to cover a single objective, whereas a branching scenario may explore a range of related learning points.

Ask your SME to think about realistic situations where the consequences of making poor decisions would drive the learning point home.

Take a lo-fi approach and use Post-its to map out your scenarios. This makes it easy to edit and iterate as you go along.

For more complex scenarios, there are digital tools that can help you map out the various strands of your scenario – Twine is just one free and popular option.

Elearning scenarios tip #4: Review and iterate

To guarantee an effective end result, you need to test out your scenarios – preferably with a sample set of learners, but if that’s not possible, at least with your team and your SMEs.

The way your scenarios are written is critical to their success. Read them out loud: do they feel natural and believable? If not, take another look.

Many scenarios are written in the first person, but there are instances where it’s easier to have your learner take on an advisory role – where the learner’s role is to make decisions on behalf of a character.

You can try out both approaches and see which works better. If you’re finding it difficult to string together a sequence of events all based around a single character or role, then consider having your learners take on that advisory role instead. This also gives you the freedom to explore the same situation from different points of view.

challenging decision are a key part of strong elearning scenarios

Elearning scenarios tip #5: Make people care

Successful scenarios draw your learners in. They tell a story that your learners will want to follow.

Think about how you can create an emotional hook upfront that will draw your learners in. Particularly in more complex scenarios, your characters can play a big part in drawing your learners into your story.

If you have a range of characters, create profiles for each of them to ensure they’re fully developed and realistic. Think about their motivations. Conflicted characters are often the most engaging, so maximise the draw of these characters to drive home key learning points.

In shorter scenarios, it’s best to focus on making the situation itself as dramatic as possible, as you won’t have the space to develop character.

To create an immediate hook, put your learners right in the midst of a situation, or even at the end. Start your story from where a negative outcome has already happened and have your learners explore how a series of poor decisions led to that event.

Spend your budget wisely to get the best results

At LEO Learning, we often deliver video-rich scenarios for our clients, but these solutions aren’t always the most cost-effective.

For simpler, more budget-friendly solutions, we’ll instead make good use of audio and images to tell the story. Even if you’re on a small budget, it’s worth investing in a photo shoot so you can visually illustrate your scenarios. And if this takes place in your offices, it gives the learning that extra level of authenticity.

Adding audio clips is another good way of enriching the learning experience. These could be snippets of phone calls or conversations between characters.

If your scenario is well-designed and has a strong story, you won’t need lots of extras to hook learners in. Concentrate on designing realistic, engaging scenarios your learners will relate to and you will get results.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to find out more about creating high-quality elearning on a budget, grab a copy of our ebook, ‘Having it all’: how to design elearning for quality, speed and value.

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