Scenario based learning has many obvious benefits. It has the ability to engage learners and gives them the possibility to make decisions, try out different versions of solving a particular problem and see the consequences of their actions without translating them into the real world.
The technology to design such immersive learning interventions is definitely out there and widely available. You don’t have to be a specialist; just take a lot of classes or spend a lot of time becoming specialized in this. If you are a learning professional with basic knowledge of how people learn and some operating systems skills, you are good to go.
5 Steps to take when designing scenario-based training courses
You will, however, have to do more than just click next, add some visuals and write witty dialogue. Just like with any other type of learning design, there are necessary steps to take before embarking on the actual creation of the course. You’ll find them enumerated below.
Know your audience
Before even thinking about concept, characters or the lighting in a certain film, you need to know who you are designing for. Empathy is key when it comes to creating relevant, engaging and effective scenarios.
You need to get to know your audience, the people who’ll be learning. Asking whether they are just starting at their jobs or are seniors who have been around for a while will determine the prior knowledge they have.
Furthermore, it is important to find what they expect from the learning intervention, if it is to acquire a new skill or simply improve on something they know. Another important aspect is related to their aspirations. People learn because they want to better themselves and reach their goals. Finding out what they are will allow you to construct the material in such a way that it will get their buy-in right off the bat.
Identify the learning objectives
With the audience in mind, you’ll need to figure out what they will take with them at the end of the course. This is actually a two-part endeavor as it is important to know not only what the expected outcomes are on the part of the learners but also of the business.
All training means cost and companies need to feel that the expense has been worth it. You have to figure out what the learning gaps are, how they are affecting the organization at the present time and how things will improve with the completion of a certain program.
This is also the step in which you need to take a look at what the challenging situations are, how frequently they happen and how important they are. Since SBL focuses on real-life issues these are the best source for inspiration.
Choose the best suited situation for a scenario
With all the information gathered in the first two steps of the process, you should have a rather lengthy list of instances in which the learning gap was most apparent. First you need to prioritize these situations. Then it’s necessary to take a look at those that are critical but do not appear often enough so that people can test their abilities and build a successful strategy for dealing with them.
Apart from looking at how important a certain situation is business-wise, you also need to evaluate the potential it has for becoming a good scenario for learning – you need to assess if it has enough conflict and if is compatible with a high degree of interactivity.
If none of the real situations can stand by these two standards, it’s better to invent a situation that has better chances of bringing about effective learning.
Pick the right scenario frame
There are several types of scenarios, each best suited for teaching a particular kind of skill. You have to decide which will result in the most effective transfer of learning:
- Skill-Based Scenario — the learner is expected to demonstrate skills and knowledge they have already acquired; it works best after a theoretical session or at least a short workshop in which some basic information is covered (or merely dusted off);
- Problem-Based Scenario — this is ideal for stances in which learners need to tap both into their theoretical and practical knowledge to figure out the ramifications of a problem. Decision-making, logical reasoning, and critical thinking are all necessary in dealing with this type of scenario;
- Issue-Based Scenario — not necessarily looking for a clear-cut resolution, learners are asked to take a stand on issues, usually with humanitarian perspectives, and think about these in order to understand the bigger picture;
- Speculative Scenario — learners are asked to predict the outcome of an event in the future based on what they know at the present time and how they feel things are evolving (they have to tap into their own intuition);
- Gaming Scenario — probably the most fun kind, these scenarios involve the use of games as learning tools.
Design the scenario
The final step is obviously the making of the learning scenario. It’s about creating an engaging story that also manages to be educationally effective. The trigger event, the one that sets the scene for the entire scenario should be carefully thought through so that it mimics the reality of the learner.
The protagonist in your scenario is supposed to be somebody the learners can relate to in order to be convinced to modify or change their behavior. As such, he should walk, talk, act, and dress in a way that is believable and very much in tune with the learners.
It is also advisable to make feedback an instructional tool with SBL – explain the mistakes, offer alternative ways of arriving to a certain solution, explore the consequences of various decisions.
Do all this, however, in a nice, entertaining and positive way – if the whole intervention is stopped for a lecture its whole point will be ruined.
The greatest asset any instructional designer has up his sleeve is undoubtedly creativity. Finding new ways to make learning interesting, engaging and most important transferable into the workplace is a constant challenge. That being said, design is ultimately an organized process and following these five steps ensures a relevant finite product.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.