Tag: branching scenario

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.

Ending

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.

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.

Scenario-Based Learning Experiences Podcast Interview

Jacqueline Hutchinson of The Lounge podcast and I had a lovely conversation on scenario-based learning. She had some great questions about how to use scenarios and storytelling in learning experiences that led to a really fun chat. We talked about some “horror stories” and scenarios gone wrong, using scenarios to make compliance training not sleep-inducing, and options besides branching scenarios for incorporating storytelling.

Listen to our conversation on scenario-based learning on her site or follow the links to listen on other platforms. The episode is about 45 minutes long.

As a side note, since Jac and I are both tea drinkers, I mentioned that I was drinking an iced lemon basil oolong from my local tea shop while we recorded.

What we talked about

  • What is a scenario
  • When are scenarios useful
  • Branching scenarios versus simple one question scenarios
  • Getting started with a simple scenario
  • Process for designing a scenario
  • How to determine when to use a scenario
  • Working with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts)
  • How long does it take to design different scenarios
  • Manage the complexity of the scenario

If you’re looking for more, check out my other posts on storytelling and scenarios.

Podcast interview on scenario-based learning experiences

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

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).

combining-branching

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.

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.