Tag: Cathy Moore

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.

Don’t Restart Scenario-Based Learning, Go Back

In my previous posts, I shared tips for managing the complexity of branching scenarios and some ideas on how long to let learners go down the wrong path. At some point in that wrong path, you have to redirect learners.

The question is: do you restart the scenario from the beginning or do you go back partway, maybe even just one single step?

Restart or Go Back?

Restart

Many scenarios I write have at least one short path of wrong decisions. This path usually starts with a poor choice. I give learners the option to correct their mistake and get onto a better path. However, if they make multiple wrong choices without ever making a good one, I force them to restart.

If the whole scenario is short (3-4 decisions on the ideal path), I usually just force a restart after each ending.

Back One Step

Most of the time, especially in longer scenarios, you can allow people to back up in the scenario rather than restarting from the very beginning. If learners make 4 correct decisions in a row but have a mistake in step 5, do they really need to go back to the beginning? Maybe they just need to jump back one step to where they made a mistake.

Cathy Moore uses this approach in many of her scenarios. For example, in this Ethics Training example, you can jump back to the previous decision. She shows this with a “Go Back” link. Sometimes you can only go back after reading feedback (“What happened?”).

Back to a Checkpoint

If your scenario allows people to make multiple wrong choices, you might have “checkpoints” where you return to. Let’s say that Joanna makes 3 correct choices, followed by 3 incorrect ones. If there’s a checkpoint after 3 choices, she can jump back to that point.

Think about video games. If your character dies in level 8, you don’t have to go back and play through levels 1 through 7 again. You either start at level 8 (a checkpoint) or right before you died (back one step).

Mix it up

You can use these techniques together in the same scenario. Some paths might lead to a restart, while minor errors might just return to one step earlier. It’s not an all or nothing question.

Can You Please Help Me?

Can you do me a favor? If you have a question about how to create branching scenarios, can you ask it in the comments? (If you’re reading this in email, feel free to reply and ask privately.) I’ll reply to every question asked. You might also see your question in a future blog post.

Managing the Complexity of Branching Scenarios

On reddit, someone asked how to manage the complexity of branching scenarios and keep them from growing out of control. One of the issues with branching scenarios is that you can get exponential growth. If each choice has 3 options, you end up with 9 slides after just 2 choices, and 27 after 3 choices. This is 40 pages total with only 3 decisions per path. For most projects, that’s more complexity than you want or need.

Branching scenario with exponential growth

So how do you manage this complexity?

Use Twine

One way to make this branching easier to manage is by creating your scenarios in Twine. Twine makes it very easy to draft scenarios and check how all the connections flow together. No matter how complex your scenario is, Twine makes it easier to create it. Cathy Moore has an example of a scenario she built in Twine. This scenario has 57 total decision points, but it only took her 8 hours to create.

You can use Twine as your initial prototype, or you can use it as your final product. I have used Twine as my initial draft and prototype, then exported everything to Word as a storyboard for developers to build the final version in Storyline.

Planning a Scenario

Before I sit down to write a scenario, I always know my objectives. What are you teaching or assessing?

I usually have an idea of how long the ideal or perfect path will be. If you have a multi-step process, that’s your ideal path. If there’s going to be 4 decision points on the shortest path, I know what those are before I start writing.

I also usually know at least some of the decision points based on errors or mistakes I need to address.

There’s a limit to how much you can plan before you just start writing it out though. I find it’s easier to just open up Twine and figure it out within that system.

Allow Opportunities to Fix Mistakes

One trick for managing the potentially exponential growth is by giving learners a chance to get back on the right path if they make a minor error. If they make 2 or 3 errors in a row, they get to an ending and have to restart the whole thing.

For example, maybe you’re teaching a communication skill where they should start with an open-ended question before launching into a sales pitch. Choice A is the open-ended question (the best choice). Choice B is a closed question (an OK choice). Choice C is jumping right into the sales pitch without asking (bad choice). After the customer response for choice B, I’d give them an opportunity to use the open-ended question (A) as their follow up. Reusing some choices helps keep it from growing out of control. In this image, reusing choices cuts the total number of pages from 40 to 20.

Flowchart for branching scenario with 20 pages Make Some Paths Shorter

Not every path needs to be the same length. In the above image, one branch from choice C is shorter. It ends after 2 choices instead of 3. You might make a short path if people make several major errors in a row. Past a certain point, it makes sense to  ask people to reset the scenario from the beginning or backtrack to a previous decision.

Good, OK, and Bad

In branching scenarios, not everything is as black and white as a clear-cut right or wrong answer. You can have good, OK, and bad choices and endings. In this example from my portfolio, green is good choices/endings, orange is OK choices/endings, and red is bad choices/endings. In this scenario, if you choose 39 (bad), you have 3 options: 40 (back on the good path, recovering from the mistake), 41 (OK), and 42 (a bad choice leading to a restart). This example has 15 endings, which is still more than I would like; if I was redoing it now I would probably collapse a few more of those endings together.

Branching scenario flowchart with good, OK, and bad choices and endings

Your Ideas?

Do you have any suggestions or tips for managing and reducing the complexity of branching scenarios? Please share in the comments.

ID and E-Learning Links (10/2/16)

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

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