8 Kinds of Training Where Scenario-Based Learning Works

In her book Scenario-Based eLearning: Evidence-Based Guidelines for Online Workforce Learning, Ruth Clark identifies 8 learning domains where scenario-based learning can be used effectively. These common topics for workplace training all involve more strategic decision-making rather than simply following a checklist of tasks.

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Compliance policies and procedures
  3. Diagnosis and repair
  4. Research, analysis, and rationale
  5. Trade-offs
  6. Operational decisions and actions
  7. Design
  8. Team coordination

Let’s look at each one of these kinds of training with some examples of what might be included.

8 Kinds of Training that Work with Scenario-Based Learning

Interpersonal skills

Simulated conversations as branching scenarios are great ways to practice interpersonal and communication skills. This is a common place to use branching, and one of the types of scenarios I most commonly build for clients.

For example, this branching scenario helps doctors practice talking to a patient about alcohol use to motivate the patient to change his behavior.

Compliance policies and procedures

We’ve all taken boring compliance training. “Oh look, another course on corporate ethics or blood borne pathogens, how exciting.”

But think about the drama in ethics or sexual harassment–those topics are ripe with stories and examples of what happens when things go wrong.

Blood borne pathogens always seems to be taught as a straightforward “here’s what they are, here’s why they’re bad, here’s what to do” approach. Why not grab people’s attention right from the start by telling a story about someone who didn’t pay attention and might have gotten infected? Use the story to show them why it matters.

The Lab by the Office of Research Integrity is a great example of ethics training with a compelling story and consequences for poor decisions. (Note that this is a few years old and requires Flash.)

Diagnosis and repair

Diagnosing a problem requires deeper analysis than can be practiced or measured via a single multiple choice question. You might try several different questions or tests to determine the root cause. Those steps might not need to always happen in the same order, which makes a non-linear practice exercise ideal. However, sometimes a troubleshooting skill would be better practiced with a more complex simulation than a branching scenario.

Examples of diagnosis and repair skills:

  • Doctors asking questions to diagnose a patient
  • Technicians determining how to fix an intermittent problem on a car
  • Managers investigating why performance has dropped in a team
  • Network engineers troubleshooting network reliability problems

Diagnosis and repair may have a single “right answer,” which makes these skills a little different from some others where branching scenarios are helpful.

Research, analysis, and rationale

Research and analysis require gathering and using information from multiple sources. Usually there are multiple possible acceptable solutions, rather than a single correct answer. They gray area makes these skills a good fit for scenario-based learning.

Providing a rationale for decisions requires context. You can’t tell someone “What’s the best car?” without knowing who that car is for and how they’ll be using it. A scenario provides the context that allows you to analyze the situation and provide a rationale for your recommendation.

Trade-offs

The classic project management joke says, “Fast, good, and cheap: pick any two.” You can have something that is fast and cheap if you’re willing to sacrifice quality. You can have something that is fast and good if you’re willing to pay enough for it. Those are trade-offs we make all the time in our jobs.

A great example of this is deciding which software to use. Storyline and Captivate both have advantages and disadvantages; which tool is the best choice for any given project is a matter of trade-offs. Which LMS is the best for an organization depends on a huge number of factors. Every system has some trade-offs for power, ease of use, and other functionality.

Operational decisions and actions

Operational decisions are exercises in analysis and trade-offs, balancing multiple factors. Clark recommends that these skills be practiced in a simulated environment, so they may need a less structured treatment than a branching scenario.

Design

Design skills often have a wide range of acceptable solutions. If you ask 5 people to design a website given the same constraints, you’ll get 5 very different solutions. All of those might be functional websites that would solve problems for an organization, although with some trade-offs. 

It’s hard in self-paced elearning to really effectively simulate designing something new. Unless you can create a very open-ended simulation, you have to sacrifice some realism and complexity. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t practice and assess parts of a design process through decision-making scenarios.

Team coordination

Several years ago, I designed a scenario-based course on improving equity in school systems. A scenario about a specific school system was woven throughout the course, including a number of key characters. One of the first exercises in that case was picking the team to work on the solution. Learners needed to include a variety of specialists and roles, as well as making sure different groups were represented.

The skills for communicating and coordinating with a team benefit from a scenario to provide context and practice making decisions. This domain can overlap and include several of the domains mentioned earlier, such as interpersonal skills, research, and trade-offs.

Looking for more?

Note that this list of domains isn’t intended to be a complete list, but a starting point to show a variety of ways scenario-based learning can be used.

Check out When to Use Branching Scenarios and 40+ other posts on scenarios and storytelling.

6 thoughts on “8 Kinds of Training Where Scenario-Based Learning Works

  1. Hi Christy
    Branching scenarios are also a great way to provide students with disability to practice and get feedback on their their interpersonal skills e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorders.

    Hyacinth

    1. Hi Christy,
      It takes a lot of patience and coffee to view our traditional compliance policies and procedures trainings each year. I am a teacher and it would be nice to view videos that shared stories, scenarios and examples of careless behavior in our blood born pathogens trainings. I believe there would be less resistance to complete the training if there was a strategy to grab our attention and keep it. It’s amazing how teachers are required to create interesting activiities but we have to endure a lot of boring trainings.

      Wendy

    2. That makes perfect sense as an application. While I think video can get overused in training, teaching people to read body language is one of the places where an interactive video branching scenario would be very effective.

  2. Hi Christy,
    It takes a lot of patience and coffee to view our traditional compliance policies and procedures trainings each year. I am a teacher and it would be nice to view videos that shared stories, scenarios and examples of careless behavior in our blood born pathogens trainings. I believe there would be less resistance to complete the training if there was a strategy to grab our attention and keep it. It’s amazing how teachers are required to create interesting activiities but we have to endure a lot of boring trainings.

    Wendy

    1. I have gone through some of those blood borne pathogen trainings, and they are pretty awful. Even a little story at the beginning as a “hook” to engage learners would be an improvement. I think teachers can be a hard audience to write training for because they know when it’s lousy. I have written a number of professional development courses for teachers though, and almost all of them include some scenarios. I figure if I’m bored writing a course that learners will be bored taking it, so I write stories that I’d be interested in.

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