Creating Branching Scenario Layouts

I created a branching scenario prototype in Twine a while back about an instructional design consultant screening and booking a new client. My previous posts have shown my process for planning and writing the scenario. Now I’m going to show my work and my thought process for some of the development process, starting with creating layouts.

You can review the scenario prototype and the map of the decisions in my previous post.

Creating Branching Scenario Layouts

Identify What Layouts Are Needed

Many branching scenarios are simulated conversations. That means you’re mostly focusing on two characters talking plus the choices.

For a simulated conversation, you only need a few different layouts. 

  1. Intro screen
  2. Conversation with choices
  3. Ending

The bare minimum is 3 layouts, although you might choose to have more. For example, you could have different layouts for positive and negative endings.

This scenario is a little more complicated. I have a simulated phone conversation, but I also have some email interactions. I also have some longer “cut scene” phone conversations that require some back and forth between the characters without interaction. That means I need the three layouts noted before, plus some additional ones.

  1. Intro screen
  2. Email with choices
  3. Phone conversation with choices
  4. Long phone conversation
  5. Ending

Create Layouts in PowerPoint

Intro Screen

You can start by sketching on paper, but I’m starting in PowerPoint for this project. The first layout I mock up is the intro screen. I need space for the introduction paragraph, a character (Sophie), and a button to get started.

For the background, I want to set the scene of a home office where a consultant like Sophie might work. I chose a photo by NorbertLevajsics on Unsplash and blurred it. At this stage of development, I often work with just shapes in PowerPoint and no real images. I usually wait to add images until later. This time, I wanted the background to help me figure out the layouts and the placement of the computer for the email interactions.

Branching scenario introduction layout (character on left, intro paragraph on top right, and button labeled "Let's get started.")

Email with Choices

For the email interaction, I’m going to focus on the computer rather than showing the character. I keep the background, but change the focus to zoom in on a computer. I also use a computer image from Storyblocks as a frame around the email. I keep the choices on the right. In these mockups, I’m using the lighter blue for buttons and the darker blue for text and image placeholders.

Branching scenario email layout with three choices

Phone Conversation with Choices

I want to keep the buttons on the right, the same as with the email layout.

Branching scenario layout with character and three choices

Long Phone Conversation

For the long phone conversations, I want to show both Sophie and Robert. I need some space for conversation bubbles so they can have some back and forth. My initial thought is to do a split screen showing the two characters. The background on the right is by  MattHoffman on Unsplash.

Branching scenario layout with placeholders for two characters and conversation bubbles.

I’m not quite sure about this layout. If I was going to use voice over for this scenario, this would work well. I’d drop the conversation bubbles and just show the characters changing as the speaker changes. I’m planning to just use on screen text though. If I use this layout, I need to add some navigation to move forward and backward. This layout gives me nice large text bubbles, but it might make it harder to get a sense for the whole conversation.  It also doesn’t seem like there’s quite enough separation between the two settings, so I probably need to add a line or play with that more.

Because of that, I decide to try something else for the longer phone conversations: a comic style layout. This is nice for showing a whole conversation. I’m worried the text will have to be too small to fit it in though. Maybe this is too much on the screen at once and will be information overload. I’m also not quite sure this visually works as well for a phone conversation as an in-person conversation.

Branching scenario layout in comic style

At this stage, I’m not quite sure what I want. I will probably end up building one of the conversations (or at least part of one) in both layouts to see what I like best with actual content. I think I might want to look at some other comic style layouts for inspiration too.


I’m going to use the same basic layout for all of the endings. This is like the intro slide, but with a potentially larger block of text for feedback.

Branching scenario ending and feedback layout

Next Steps

While I’m not happy with the layouts for the long phone conversation yet, this is a good first pass through creating layouts. It’s probably enough for me to start developing, knowing that I’ll keep tweaking as I get into the tools working with actual content.

I’m going to develop this in both Storyline and Captivate so I can show the process and final product in both. Watch for future posts showing that process.

I spent about 1.5 hours creating these initial layouts in PowerPoint. That would have been a little less if I hadn’t selected background images too. That total includes some time picking character images for Sophie and Robert, although those aren’t shown here.

Looking for More?

Read the previous posts to see my process for creating this scenario.

Make Learning Immediately Relevant with Scenarios

One way to engage learners is to make content immediately relevant. People naturally pay more attention to information they can use right away than information they “might need someday.”

Create a Sense of Immediacy

In August, I attended a webinar by Julie Dirksen on the Science of Attention and Engagement. One of her tips to promote learner engagement is about making learning immediately relevant.

Create a Sense of Immediacy

It’s easiest to pay attention to content that you can use right away. Use strategies like test-then-tell, scenarios or problem-based learning to create an immediate use for the learning content.

Julie Dirksen

Check out Tracy Parish’s sketch notes from the webinar as well.

Make Learning Immediately Relevant with Scenarios

What Does The Research Say?

If someone offered you $10 today or $11 one year from now, what would you choose? Most people would choose the $10 today. A reward is worth the most in the moment; the perceived value of the reward drops the if you won’t get it until some date in the future. This is known as hyperbolic discounting.

For example, the reward for exercising is generally long term. You have to do a lot of work over weeks or maybe months before you start seeing results. That makes it hard to stay motivated.

However, if you can make exercise immediately rewarding, it’s easier to stay motivated. People with diabetes can test their blood sugar before and after exercise to see an immediate change. If a 20 minute walk drops your blood sugar from 150 to 120, it’s easy to see the value in that activity.

Immediacy in Learning

Similarly, the rewards for learning are often long in the future. We train people on principles which we say will be important, but they might not get to apply that new knowledge for weeks or months.

We can create that sense of immediacy in learning by giving people a scenario where they apply it right away. We can create an immediate reward for learning. That helps learners stay motivated and engaged with our training.

Example Comparison

Before (Traditional Training)

Reasonable Accommodation: What Managers Need to Know

It’s important to remember these 5 factors when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation…

After (Scenario-Based Training)

You’re working with your team to keep everything running smoothly. You have an aggressive schedule for the next month with an upcoming product launch. Rosa just asked if she can take a two-day training on how to use her new assistive technology more effectively. What should you do? Do you approve the request for training, or do you tell Rosa she can’t take the training until after her upcoming deadline?

What feels more important to you, the traditional or scenario-based version? Which version would you find more motivating? Using scenarios to create a sense of immediacy shows how learning is relevant and useful.

Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

I’m active in the instructional design subreddit (/r/instructionaldesign). Someone without an instructional design background posted this question about how to design training for volunteers.

Simple background is that I work for a large church with multiple campuses and an extensive volunteer base. Over the years as technology has developed, especially in the production realm, it’s become more and more difficult to adequately bring volunteers up to speed. Most of the roles in the production side are “volunteer” versions of professional jobs and while people espouse the love of volunteering, they also expect professional results.

My job, as one of a handful of professionals serving in staff (production systems engineer), the task lies with me to train the volunteers (and other staff) in how to get the best results. We have very sophisticated audio, video and lighting systems, so the ability to produce good results ends up in the hands of the volunteers each weekend.

We have recently begun a process of organizing the training tasks for the whole church in a way we can efficiently deliver it across time and distance, in hopes we can bring our knowledge base up to meet the challenges of continuing to grow and launch new churches.

I’m going to parse through all the links I can find on this sub, but if you have any specific resources or advise, I’d appreciate any help you might offer.

TL;DR Volunteers need to be trained and I’m the technical guy so they’re all looking to me to organize the process.

-sosaudio at
Basic Instructional Design Process for Non-Instructional Designers

Backwards Design

In this situation, here’s a basic outline of what I’d do. (Note that my limited understanding of the tasks means my examples may not be 100% accurate.) This process is partly based on “backwards design”: figure out your end goal first, then work backwards to get there.

The Design Process

  1. Task List: Identify all the tasks that need to be done in detail. Not just “audio,” but a list of the subtasks within that. The more detailed you are with the goals, the easier the rest of this process will be.
  2. Learn With Support, Not Practice: Once you have your list, look at which things are tasks people can reasonably be expected to do without practice. Those tasks are ones where your focus should be on providing documentation and checklists to help them remember. This is especially true for things people will only do a few times a year (which may be most of them, if volunteers aren’t doing it every week.) This list will hopefully be pretty long, so you’re mostly focusing on writing up clear checklists of procedures. That’s initially time consuming, but in the long run it will be more efficient because you can reuse your documentation over and over.
  3. Learn With Practice: Looking at that list of tasks, which ones are things people will have to practice in order to get them right? Those are the ones where you should focus on training.
  4. Practice Activities: How can you have people practice those tasks, maybe in multiple ways?
    • Maybe you give them a paper handout with the sound board and ask them to physically touch or mark what they should adjust for different situations.
    • Maybe you have them listen to sound with something adjusted incorrectly and have them try to figure out what’s wrong.
    • Maybe you have them adjust the sound board and see what changes. Think about a couple of ways you can do it.
      Note that of my examples above, #1 and #2 can be done by a whole group of people at the same time, rather than each person getting a chance at the sound board. They probably need that eventually, but try to be creative about things you can do to train multiple people at once to be more efficient with your time.
  5. Information: Now that you have a plan for practice exercises, figure out what information they need to be able to do those practice activities. If they are troubleshooting what’s wrong by listening to audio, then they need to know the channels and knobs and what they do. They need some basic terminology so they can understand what you’re talking about. You can probably find some of this content online, although you’ll probably have to adapt it for what is most important.
  6. Organize: Organize the content in terms of tasks rather than functions. That is, don’t try to just tell them what everything on the sound board does from left to right. Tell them: This is how you set it up for a normal Sunday morning service. This is how you adjust it for special music etc.
  7. Pilot: Try out your training with a small group of volunteers. Ask them what went well and what was still confusing. Determine if you met your goals. Adjust your training for the next round based on that feedback.
  8. Follow up: You may discover that you need some follow up or refresher training. Maybe the initial training should only focus on the normal Sunday morning service, but you have later training for special events or musicians or the annual Christmas pageant.

Apply This Process

While this example is specific to a particular situation, this basic process can be applied to many situations. This is obviously simplified, and more could be done. I don’t have much here for feedback and evaluation, for example.

This process works though, and it’s probably good enough to get started. When I asked the original poster for permission to use his question in a blog post, he replied,

Absolutely! The information you gave me has been monumental in getting this project rolling. I’m sure lots of others will be helped with your post.


Security for Freelancers and Consultants

Many people are reluctant to become freelancers or consultants because the risk seems too high. You have flexibility to set your work schedule and take the kinds of projects you want, but you trade that for the security of a full-time job.

I’m not convinced that working independently is necessarily much riskier than a full-time job though. In fact, sometimes it can be safer.

Security for Freelancers and Consultants

The Risks of Full-Time Employment

Having multiple clients and income streams can actually be more secure than having a single full-time income.

Think of it this way: you would never invest everything in your IRA in the stocks of a single company. That would be ridiculously risky to trust your entire future retirement income to the success of a single enterprise.

But full time employees trust their entire present income to a single company. If they lose their job, they lose 100% of their income. They usually have to ramp up from nothing to find a new one.

Reducing Risks, Increasing Security

Multiple Clients Reduce Risk

I usually have at least two active clients at all times, plus sometimes smaller side projects and more in my pipeline. If one of my two current big clients suddenly cancels their project, it will hurt my income–but not nearly as much as losing a full-time job hurts. I’ll still have income coming in from my other active client.

Nurturing Leads and Your Network Increase Security

I also have the security of having additional leads so I can ramp up quickly on other work. I have a network of colleagues. I refer work to others when I’m busy, and they return the favor. I know I can reach out to my network if I need more work.

Being Able to Find the Next Project

Yes, my income is variable, and I have had both good and bad years overall. However, I don’t see freelancing as being as being that much less secure overall than having a full-time job. The security comes from being able to find the next project, not from having a guarantee that the current project is a sure thing.

After all, if you have a full-time job and it ends suddenly, your security is really a measure of how fast you can find a new job. Freelancers and consultants are generally better prepared for finding that next thing.

I think many of us consultants and freelancers probably have more security than we realize, and many people in full-time jobs don’t realize how little security they truly have.

More Freelancing Tips

Kai Davis shared some ideas on the balance of flexibility and security in his daily email newsletter for freelancers. This is based on my response to his email. If you’re interested in learning more about other ways to improve your security (and improve your processes as a freelancer in general), I recommend his newsletter.

ID and eLearning Links (9/23/18)

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

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links