Transitioning from Teaching to Instructional Design

Last week I gave a webinar through UCI on transitioning from teaching to instructional design. I shared my story of moving from teaching to instructional design as well as tips for finding a job. While this presentation was primarily aimed at teachers, much of the content also applies to others looking to change careers. The recording is now available on YouTube.

The links and resources mentioned during my presentation are listed below.

Instructional Design Competencies

Comparing lists of instructional design competencies to your current skills is one way to determine what you already know and where you need to focus on improving.


A portfolio is a critical tool for showing prospective employers and clients your skills.


If your resume is currently focused on teaching, you’ll need to do some updating to focus on the relevant skills for instructional design.


One way to prepare for interviews is thinking about how to answer potential questions by employers.


Listening to podcasts is one way to learn about the field and become familiar with  terminology and trends.

Book Recommendations

Whether you enroll in a graduate certificate program, masters program, or are learning on your own, reading books is a way to learn skills to fill in the gaps in your skills.

Check out my posts on instructional design careers for more information.

Transitioning from Teaching to Instructional Design

Combining Branching Scenarios with Other Approaches

When you think of branching scenarios, do you think of self-paced elearning, maybe of an entire course with nothing but a complex branching scenario? While a lengthy branching scenario can be effective on its own, that isn’t the only way to use this approach. Combining branching scenarios with other training approaches lets you use branching scenarios for the activities where they matter most, while using other methods where they are effective.

Sometimes I hear people worry that using a branching scenario means they are committing to creating a whole 30-minute or 60-minute course with branching, or that it has to approach the complexity of a video game to be useful. That’s not usually the case (although larger simulations can be very effective in certain circumstances, if you have the resources).


Plan Specific Activities

In her book Map It, Cathy Moore argues that we should focus on planning activities to match specific performance goals, rather than always creating a course or single event of training. Designing this way means we may use branching scenarios for part of the training, but not for the whole thing.

Her advice is to choose “the best format for each activity, not one format for the entire project.”

If you need an activity for a skill that requires decision-making to discern between choices that aren’t absolutely right or wrong, a branching scenario may be a good choice. If you need an activity for a skill that is purely procedural, with no nuance, some other kind of practice activity is probably better. Think about your goals and when a branching scenario helps meet those goals.

Branching Scenarios for Practice

You can combine branching scenarios with other training formats. The branching scenario can be a practice activity as part of a larger program.

  • Culminating Practice: A branching scenario might be the final practice activity in a course where learners string together all the steps they previously practiced individually.
  • Spaced Practice: Short branching scenarios could be delivered over time to reinforce and improve skills as a follow-up to a live training event.
  • Prework Practice: A branching scenario might be the prework practice activity to build skills before a live session for role play practice.
  • Refresher Practice: Branching scenarios could be available for people to access on demand to practice as a refresher right before applying the skill.

Live Training with Branching Scenarios

In her book, Cathy Moore describes using branching scenarios in live and virtual training as well as eLearning. Live training (whether in a physical or virtual classroom) can be a great way to facilitate discussion about the gray areas of a topic. Cathy explains how one scenario worked with small groups in a live training.

Each group ran the scenario separately, debating their options. Then the larger group discussed the issues raised by the scenario. During the discussion, the facilitator helped participants identify the main takeaways.

You could also post the choices for a branching scenario on a slide in virtual training and ask people to make a choice in the chat. While polls are fast, chat gives people opportunities to explain their decision. I might consider asking a few people to describe their rationale. You can proceed through the scenario based on which choices make the points you want to demonstrate, or go through the scenario multiple times to show the results of different decisions.

Interested in Reading More?

Check out these other posts on branching scenarios.

I’m now up to over 40 posts on storytelling and scenarios if you’re looking for more.

ID and eLearning Links (7/29/18)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

When To Use Branching Scenarios

When should you use a branching scenario rather than other learning strategies? There are no “silver bullets” in learning; we don’t have “one way to rule them all” that works in every single situation. While I’m a big proponent of branching scenarios, they aren’t always the best method.

Criteria for Considering Branching Scenarios

Use these criteria as a starting point for considering when to use branching scenarios.

  1. Shades of Gray: The skill isn’t just black and white; there are nuances and shades of gray.
  2. Strategic: The skill is strategic rather than procedural; it requires more than a checklist.
  3. Multiple Decisions: The skill requires multiple coordinated decisions.
  4. Risky Situations: The skill is too risky to practice on the job.

When to Use Branching Scenarios

Shades of Gray, Not Just Black and White

I find that branching scenarios work best for skills that are complex and include gray areas. If the steps are procedural, where there’s a clear list of actions to take in a specific order, a branching scenario is overkill.

Branching scenarios are most effective when they can show decisions that are partially correct or might be correct in certain circumstances. This is reflected in the structure of the branching scenario, where you often have three choices: Best, OK, and Poor.

Strategic, Not Procedural

In her book Scenario-Based e-Learning, Ruth Clark argues that scenario-based elearning, including branching scenarios and simulations, should be used for strategic tasks rather than procedural tasks. She explains:

Scenario-based e-learning is generally better suited to strategic tasks that require judgment and tailoring to each new workplace situation. Unlike procedures, strategic tasks cannot be decomposed into a series of invariant steps. Instead, strategic tasks require a deeper understanding of the concepts and rationale underlying performance in order to adapt task guidelines to diverse situations.

Multiple Steps, Not Isolated Decisions

Branching scenarios work best when the task requires multiple steps and decision points. You want situations where learners need to make several consecutive decisions or take several actions. Each decision affects the outcome and the choices available at the next step.

If you want learners to practice a single decision in isolation, where their choices don’t affect the subsequent actions, a single-question mini-scenario might be a better approach.

Risky Situations, Not Safe To Learn on the Job

Some situations are dangerous to practice or learn on the job. Branching scenarios can give people opportunities to practice in a safe environment without risking injury. We don’t want people learning how to diagnose a problem with heavy construction equipment while they’re on the job and in a potentially hazardous situation. We want those mistakes made in a simulated environment.

Health care is another area where scenario-based learning can be effective because it gives people opportunities to practice diagnosing problems without affecting actual patients.

The consequences for other situations might also be so significant that they lend themselves to branching scenarios even without the risk of physical harm. What about sales people making a pitch to a CTO for a six-figure technology purchase? What about deciding how to ethically report data for a multi-million dollar research project? If the consequences are significant, more realistic practice through branching scenarios may help reduce major mistakes.

Other Considerations

This is a starting point for thinking about when to use branching scenarios. What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the comments.





ID and eLearning Links (7/8/18)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links