Scenarios play a vital role in bringing learning to life. They offer a safe environment for learners to practice in, allowing those tricky gray areas to be explored and the consequences of decision-making to be understood.
In this blog post, Learning Consultant Thomas Winter explores the powerful impact that scenarios can have on your learning program, and how to incorporate them into a virtual learning journey. You can discover more on virtual learning with our insight ‘Transitioning From Face-To-Face to Digital Learning’.
What Are Scenarios and Why Do We Use Them in Learning?
Scenarios put learners in realistic and challenging situations—often ones that would be difficult to replicate in real life.
They allow learners to experiment and fail safely, while gaining deep insights from reflecting on the impact of their choices and decisions. Scenarios also provide a great opportunity to tackle the gray areas of decision-making, responding to true dilemma situations where there is no single black or white, right or wrong decision.
Scenarios Allow Learners to Understand the Impact of Their Decision-Making
Scenarios offer a highly practical way of immersing your learner into the type of real-life situation where they would need to apply new knowledge and behaviors. This could be in the form of a basic A/B decision, where the learner has a straightforward decision to make, or a more nuanced situation where there may be several ‘right’ routes, but all with different consequences.
Branching these scenarios allows for the consequences to be safely played out by the learner. For instance, a leadership development course may primarily focus on budget management. What if one option would still offer the right financial results, yet the decision may alienate team-members?
Exploring gray areas this way allows you to effectively assess situations where a number of factors, nuances or a balance of behaviors is required. By playing out the results of each decision, the learner can retrace their steps, try other options, and reflect on their decision-making.
See this case study on our work with LOMA, where learners were tasked with taking on different roles within a fictional insurance company, progressing from novice to guru, while seeing the impacts of decisions they made on the customer experience delivered by the company.
A Safe Place to Practice
While practice is a fundamental component of effective learning, it’s important to enable safe failure. This allows learners to make mistakes when trying out new skills or behaviors, without the risk of potentially serious personal consequences. Learning from failure is not simply something to be tolerated. It should be nurtured as it can be incredibly powerful at effecting behavior change.
Hazardous environments present a training dilemma that can be neatly solved through a more literal translation of a ‘safe’ place to practice. Whether you choose powerful, drama-led video, or immersive technologies, such as augmented or virtual reality, it's possible to transport learners to the frontline of a disaster zone. Or plunge them to the depths of a coal mine, using virtual environments. See this case study on our work with the British Armed Forces to discover more on this topic.
It’s worth noting that not all environments you recreate for scenarios are to replace physical hazards. You’re just as likely to apply the concept to any situation or job role where the risk of learning solely on the job is too high. Business simulators (as per the budget control scenario described earlier) are equally powerful at delivering impactful learning.
Understand Your Audience
To build effective scenarios it’s important to start by analyzing your learning challenge. What is the outcome you want to achieve? Why are people not behaving in the desired manner? Are there time limitations? Is it purely a question of applying knowledge or are there also cultural or behavioral challenges that need addressing?
This groundwork is essential to create an effective narrative for your scenarios. This inquiry phase will focus your learning design to meet your learning objectives and allows you to consider practical design elements, such as:
- Do a series of nuanced decisions need to be made, or will a single A/B decision-making point be sufficient?
- Are real-life stories and situational imagery and videos required to add realism?
- Would animation be appropriate to break down complicated messages or concepts, or provide past-action reflection and analysis?
For example, when working on a fire safety program for a client, we uncovered a cultural norm where fire alarms were frequently ignored as they were assumed to be a drill. To address this, learners were presented with a first-person view of a colleague dismissing an alarm, and then presented with a decision point.
It’s important to add uncomfortable decisions that will push learners outside of their comfort zone, particularly when addressing behavioral and cultural changes.
Why is Narrative Important?
Effective storytelling builds trust, confidence and learner buy-in to the message you want to deliver. This means a strong, clear narrative is essential to create effective scenarios that resonate with the learner. It also serves a very practical purpose—complicated branching scenarios must have a cohesive narrative that works across all possible routes a learner can take.
In some cases, scenarios can be adapted to offer a more personalized experience (for example, by job role), although this will depend on the capabilities and set up of the tools and systems within your learning ecosystem. This can help to serve up content that is relevant to the individual, driving efficiency through a zero-waste learning approach while increasing learner engagement.
More from the blog: "5 Tips for Budget-Friendly (But High-Impact) eLearning Scenarios"
How to Use Scenarios Within a Virtual Learning Journey
As you transition from face-to-face to digital learning, it’s important to step back and consider the wider learning journey. Learning is never a one-off event, and as with any blended learning experience, maximizing engagement over time is key to driving sustained behavior change.
A traditional blend may have used scenarios within eLearning as a precursor to a face-to-face session, where learners would then share and reflect on the course content.
The good news is that you can still incorporate these critical social elements, even when your learners cannot physically be together. These social connections can be designed into your blend through formats such as virtual classrooms, or by setting discussion tasks using digital platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Another powerful way to use scenarios in a virtual journey is to carefully pace, and place, them at different stages of the journey. This can create a cohesive theme that builds a narrative throughout the learner’s experience.