The first part of this blog reviewed the benefits of using branching scenarios for compliance training. In this second and final part, we explore the key considerations, elements, and processes we recommend when designing branching scenarios.
Designing Branching Scenarios: Consider Content First
In part one of this series, we discussed the type of subject matter that tends to benefit from a scenario-based approach.
For compliance training, these are often topics where we want to challenge existing behaviors by showing the consequences of poor decisions: for example, code of conduct training. They’re also useful for portraying how a sequence of events or decisions can lead to negative consequences, especially where there are nuances and grey areas to consider.
But regardless of the actual type of subject matter, it’s vital to test out your approach before committing to a full design. One quick way to do this is to use a sample topic from the prospective course. First, confirm the key learning objectives for the topic, then form a scenario that weaves these objectives into the decision points.
An objective in a data protection course could be to get your employees to improve their password security behaviors. Here you could create a scenario featuring decisions around sharing passwords and the ensuing consequences: for example, the password ends up in the wrong hands and becomes part of a cyber attack.
Test your scenario: does it feel realistic and are the learning points (normally the consequences of poor decisions) clear?
Analyse Your Audience
Once you’ve established your content is suitable for a branching approach, the next step is to think about the context of your learning: who will be taking it and how.
It’s worth mentioning that branching scenarios will not suit every learning context. Learners who are new to a topic are likely to need some preliminary training before being immersed into a fully-branching scenario experience. Otherwise, the learning curve may be too steep.
Time and access are another factor. Branching scenarios are, by their very nature, a more involved, immersive experience—that’s part of what makes them so engaging.
But this does mean they’re likely to require more dedicated time to complete, rather than being something to drop in and out of. For that reason, they’re not always suitable for a microlearning program where you’ve established that your learners are short on time to learn, or are often learning on the move.
Instead, consider branching scenarios as a beneficial element of a blended learning program. Used in this way, they can form part of an overall learning strategy designed to target behavioral change.
Think About Tech
Branching scenarios can be video-based, text-based, or audio-led—or a mix of all three.
Video-led scenarios are particularly good for creating rich, immersive experiences but they will come with increased cost and a greater investment of time.
A simple text-based scenario can still deliver great results, and has the benefit of being cheaper and easier to update. Audio can support text-based scenarios to aid accessibility and help create a sense of character or environment in a cost-effective way.
If your learning needs to be accessed on mobile, then a video course will likely need to be downloadable so it can be played offline (due to larger file sizes). Consider how people will be accessing your learning to help decide on the best format.
Take a Storytelling Approach
One of the strengths of branching scenarios is that they utilize our innate passion for stories. Wanting to know ‘what happens next’ drives us to binge-watch a Netflix season or stay up late reading a crime thriller. But this only happens if you have a well-plotted story and characters that people become invested in.
An effective branching scenario needs both of these elements to hook your learners in. Spend time developing characters and ‘plotlines’ to make your scenarios engaging and realistic. Conflicted or relatable characters are often the most engaging, so maximize the draw of these characters to drive home key learning points.
When your story works, you’ll find your learners will probably make ‘bad’ decisions just to see what happens next. This should be encouraged, as the scenario should be a ‘safe space’ for learners to explore and reflect on the impact of bad decisions.
Designing Branching Scenarios: Plan for Success
What you may have gleaned from all of these considerations is that planning is paramount. Designing effective scenarios takes time, effort, and dedicated resources to get right.
But the benefits are well worth this effort. An effective branching scenario can be a great tool to achieve lasting behavioral change. When it comes to compliance training, taking the time to create rich, engaging learning experiences might be one of the best things you can do for your learners, and your organization as a whole.