Tag: branching scenario

Do You Need a Villain in a Learning Story?

I recently attended an interesting webinar by Joe Ganci on how to use science fiction to improve eLearning. In the presentation, Joe talked about elements of storytelling common to science fiction and how to incorporate those aspects for better stories in elearning. If you’re attending the Learning Solutions Conference later this month, you can hear this presentation live. (You can attend my presentation on voice over script pitfalls too!)

One of Joe’s points was that great science fiction stories have a compelling villain that allows the heroes to be heroic. The same goes for storytelling for learning. Even if the major conflict is a tight budget or short timeline, Joe argued it’s better to personify that challenge. Provide a manager who explains the budget limitations or a harried customer who needs an project finished quickly.

To some extent, I agree with Joe. Instead of simply an abstract challenge of time or resources, you can humanize it by showing why the budget is tight or how being late will impact a real person. Stories help you make learning more concrete.

Bearded businessman with evil expression

However, I’m not quite convinced that a “villain” is what we need in learning. In the real world, the bad guys and good guys aren’t always so clear cut as in the movies. Real people are rarely motivated by simply being evil. They may be confused, misguided, angry, or disorganized. That doesn’t exactly make them a villain though.

I’m worried that forcing a villain into a story might make it too over-the-top or comical. That can work if that’s what you’re going for, but I think that’s challenging to pull off well in most corporate environments.

Maybe my problem is with the word “villain.” If we call that character an “antagonist” instead, then it works well. The antagonist doesn’t have to be evil like a villain; they just have to create the conflict or challenge that drives the story. I think that’s really what Joe is getting at. The harried manager telling you the budget is tight isn’t really an evil villain, just someone doing their job in a way that creates a challenge for the learners.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to include villains in learning stories? I am ambivalent and looking for your perspectives. Answer the poll and let me know. (Email readers, you may have to click through to the site to respond to the poll.)

If the none of the answers in the poll fit, or you want to explain more, leave a comment and tell me what you think.

 

3 Tricks for Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

If you’ve ever worked with a SME on scenario-based learning, you know it can sometimes be challenging. SMEs who are accustomed to working on traditional elearning may be uncomfortable or unsure how to help you write scenarios. I have used these 3 tricks to help SMEs get “unstuck” while working together.

Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

Ask for Their Stories

SMEs almost always have a collection of good stories about their topic. The trick is figuring out how to get those stories out of their heads and into a format you can use in a course.

Try these questions to gather for stories and consequences:

  • Can you give me an example of how someone used this technique successfully? What were they able to accomplish by doing it right?
  • What are the common mistakes people make? What happens when they make that error?

You may have to keep probing for more details with follow up questions like, “Tell me more about…” or “What happened next?”

The questions above give both positive and negative examples, plus the consequences for actions. The success story can become the outline for the correct path in your branching scenario. The mistakes help you identify the decision points in your scenario and the consequences following those choices.

Start Writing Even If It’s Wrong

Sometimes it’s hard to get anything from a SME. We’ve all worked with SMEs who were too busy to get on the phone or sit down for a meeting, or who replied to all of our questions with one- or two-word answers. I worked with one SME whose thought processes are so linear that she literally couldn’t read a flow chart unless someone physically sat next to her and pointed at each box while explaining it.

For whatever reason, if you’re having trouble drawing information out from a SME, start writing something yourself. Do your research–review existing training materials, online articles, books, blogs, etc. Make your best guess and start writing a scenario as best you can. The trick is, it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. At this stage, you’re just trying to get something other than a blank page. Ask the SME to review it and point out all your errors. Even a recalcitrant SME will have a hard time not correcting your mistakes–and now you suddenly have more realistic mistakes or consequences.

Prototype Early

SMEs frequently have a hard time envisioning how a storyboard will translate into a final product. Creating a prototype early helps them see how everything will work and how learners will progress through the scenario.

No matter how hard you work on the storyboard, even with multiple rounds of revision and a final approval, expect at least some small changes once the scenario is built and functioning. Build a few iterations into your project plan. An early prototype helps catch major problems before you build the entire scenario. If your SME is stuck, a prototype of part of the scenario might help them see how to fill in the gaps for the rest of the scenario.

Your Tricks?

Do you have a great trick for working with SMEs on branching scenarios? Tell me about it in the comments!

Read More

Read all my posts about Storytelling and Scenario-Based Learning.

A Range of Options for Scenarios and Storytelling

When someone mentions scenario-based learning, do you automatically think of complex branching scenarios? While that’s one way to implement scenarios (and a very effective one!), I don’t think it’s the only option. A range of options are available, from passive to active. Even if you can’t convince your organization to invest in full-blown branching, you can find less intensive alternatives to incorporate scenarios and storytelling. Some of these options can work for both elearning and instructor-led training. In fact, you may already be using some of these methods.

Scenario-Based Learning Options from passive to active

Provided Examples

When I take instructor-led courses, often the most valuable part of the training is the stories the trainer tells. The stories are often about how a real person applied this training in their jobs or about how a failure to apply principles caused problems. Stories with examples make the abstract concrete. It’s one thing to talk about customizing footers in Word; it’s another to tell the story of a past student who manually typed in page numbers for a 400+ page document because she didn’t know how to make it work. (That is a real example from my software training days. In her defense, it wasn’t straightforward numbering. Do you know how to add chapter numbers and how to exclude the first page from the count?)

Examples are the most passive method of using scenarios and storytelling, but they still work. They can be used both in classroom training and elearning. Examples can make concepts relevant, show why a topic is important, or show how others have solved problems.

Mini-Scenarios

Mini-scenarios, or one-question scenario assessments, are slightly more active than just listening to an example. Set up a short scenario and ask learners a multiple choice question. I frequently use this technique with clients who are just dipping their toes in scenario-based learning but aren’t ready to jump into full-blown branching or simulations. You can use this technique for practice or assessment, even in a linear elearning course. In ILT, use a scenario to pose a question to the class. Ask which choice they would make with a show of hands.

Here’s an example:

Andrew is a sales manager who has been struggling to motivate his team. He sent his team to a workshop where they learned about sharing stories about previous happy customers to improve sales. A few salespeople really like using this technique, but he wants everyone to start using it more. In the long term, he wants to change their attitudes about the technique.

What should Andrew do to encourage his team?

  1. Threaten punishment for anyone not using storytelling
  2. Offer a small reward for using storytelling
  3. Offer a large reward for using storytelling

Two Narrators with Decisions

Rather than using a single narrator for elearning voice over, you can use two narrators having a conversation to deliver content. Set up a story where one character has a problem to solve, and a more experienced character mentors and trains the first character how to improve. This is still mostly passive delivery, but it’s more engaging than traditional elearning. Adding a few questions where learners help the narrator solve a problem makes it more active and lets learners practice in a realistic context.

Pamela and Michael discussing coaching

Case Study with Practice

If a case study is just read, it’s a passive example. If you use the case study as a prompt for practice, it’s more active. Case studies are used in both ILT and elearning. They can be used to start discussions (either in person or online) or for group work.

Branching Scenarios

Branching scenarios are one of the most active methods of using scenarios for learning, short of simulations and serious games. Branching lets learners make choices and see the consequences of their actions. It gives them a safe space to fail and learn from mistakes.

Role Play or Simulation

Role play exercises and simulations are some of the most active ways to use storytelling. Simulations and role plays are more immersive and open-ended. Learners must make multiple decisions, and feedback comes in the forms of consequences and may be delayed. Role play exercises require skilled facilitation to keep everything running smoothly and to debrief afterwards. Simulations require more intensive development and resources. Both of these tools can be very effective at practicing skills to improve job performance.

What Else?

What did I forget from my list? How are you using storytelling in your courses? Which of these methods do you find works best for your audience?

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Scenario-Based Learning in Higher Ed

A reader asked a great question about the role of scenario-based learning in higher education. I’ve seen a number of good examples of storytelling and scenarios in university courses.

Authentic Assessment

My first ID job was with an online university targeting nontraditional students. They focused on “authentic assessment”; Rather than traditional academic essays and exams, we used simulated work products for assessment. After all, if you’re getting a marketing degree, what’s more valuable–knowing how to write an essay or how to create a PowerPoint presentation? Those assignments used a scenario to provide context for the work students were doing. In some courses, all the written assignments had a single related scenario threaded through the whole course.

For example, in this social psychology course, students were placed in the role of Director of Operations. Through the course, they helped various departments and teams address specific challenges related to a concept of social psychology. Here’s one of the assignments for that course. Instead of writing an essay on cognitive dissonance, students wrote an article for an internal newsletter. While it’s not completely realistic, it does help connect

You’ve been asked by the Marketing Department to give them feedback from your customer service area about customer complaints and issues concerning their new product – an “All-In-One” coffee maker, toaster oven, and microwave.

Although your department has collected specific information concerning likes and dislikes of customers (as called in on your customer service toll-free number), you recognize that many of these calls could be reduced in time – or eliminated – if you helped the marketing department understand the concept called “Cognitive Dissonance.”

You’ve been asked to provide this feedback as an article for their departmental Weekly Update, and you busily begin this project. In your article for the Marketing Department, be sure to include the following information:

  • In one paragraph, provide an overview of what you’ve been asked to do.
  • Next, define the term “Cognitive Dissonance” and explain how it relates to customer purchases. (In business, cognitive dissonance is often referred to as “Buyer’s Remorse.”)
  • Provide two or three customer examples of how Cognitive Dissonance affects customers and the types of reactions they have to your product.
  • Finally, suggest some changes that can be made to the marketing materials to help reduce this effect on your customers and create and maintain long-term customer loyalty.

Branching Scenarios

I have done some limited branching scenarios for higher ed courses, similar to what I do for corporate learning. One example was a course on how to teach online where students practiced handling student objections. The student reacts differently depending on how the instructor responds to their complaint.

Angry student expression and happy student expression

Scenario-Based Discussion Questions

Short scenarios can make for more valuable discussion questions. Give students a scenario (or a few to choose from) and ask them how they’d respond. Scenario prompts for discussions often generate deeper conversations than simple questions. Providing a choice of multiple scenarios makes the discussion less repetitive (a plus for grading as well as for students).

Group Activities

I’ve used scenarios with group work too. For example, in one of my older courses for teachers, each group had a different scenario problem to solve related to privacy and social media. One scenario involved high school Spanish students who posted videos of their work on YouTube but received a rude comment. Another scenario involved middle school students who received a request from a teacher in another state to use part of a presentation they posted online. Each group worked together to create a plan of how to respond to the scenario. Scenarios like this can work especially well if your audience has different goals or needs. High school teachers can be grouped together for a high school scenario, while elementary teachers are grouped together for a separate scenario. In a business course, you might have different scenarios for managers and non-managers.

Student-Created Stories

One really interesting idea was having students write stories themselves. This was used in a course on psychological development over a lifetime. Each week of the course focused on a different time of life, starting from before birth and continuing through aging and death. Every week, the students wrote part of a profile of an imaginary person for that development time, explaining how different factors affected their development (e.g., if their person’s mother drank while pregnant, that affected brain development; if the child had poor nutrition, that affected development). A number of the students resisted that assignment, which really pushed them out of their comfort zones. They said they “weren’t creative writers” or didn’t know how to tell stories. By the end of the course, the feedback was very positive though.

Tell me your story

Tell me your own story. Have you seen storytelling used in higher education? Do you have a great example of using technology for digital storytelling, or even of a low-tech story in a classroom? Let me know in the comments.

 

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Scenario-Based Learning: Why & How

This is the recording of a presentation I gave to the Online Network of Learning and Development Professionals on September 28, 2016. The presentation covers:

  • Why scenario-based learning works
  • A range of options for using scenarios in elearning and classroom training
  • When scenario-based learning is a good choice
  • Tips for writing scenarios with the 4 Cs
  • Examples of mini-scenarios and a two-narrator course

Interested in more? Check out all of my posts on storytelling and scenario-based learning.