Defining Learning Outcomes To Reinforce Scenario-Based Learning

Defining Learning Outcomes To Reinforce Scenario-Based Learning
Summary: Using scenario-based learning assists in making learning more interactive by situating learners in a realistic learning environment. Here is some instruction on how to use this type of learning to define learning outcomes and achieve desired business goals.

How To Reinforce Scenario-Based Learning By Defining Learning Outcomes 

If you were to ask business leaders what they thought the ultimate goal of Training and Development is, I’d be willing to bet that most of them would answer “Get our employees to achieve our business goals”. Some may add that career development is also an important outcome to training, but most managers and executives would argue that training should bring about real, measurable results for the company. With this in mind, it should be clear that an optimally-designed training is one that helps learners make real business impact in a way that is applicable and immediate. Learners should be building up their skills in a way that helps them solve real issues for the company, whether its improved sales skills, medical diagnoses, or business acumen. One way to make training situate learners in realistic learning environments is to use scenario-based learning.

Scenario-Based Learning 

Scenario-Based Learning (SBL) challenges learners to take knowledge that they’ve gained and apply it to real-world scenarios, and thus make for a better skills-based training than the usual “provide knowledge, then check that knowledge” approach. It makes learning more interactive, more compelling, and situates the learner in a better reflection of the real world. SBL has huge potential for effectively training complex skills, but for it to be effective, it must be engaging.

Scenarios are a way to bring learners away from reading through big blocks of information and situate them in the real world; it makes little sense, therefore, to introduce a scenario with a paragraph of text. Instead, scenarios should draw the learner in through video interviews, or even audio-driven images depicting a real-time conversation - something to give the learner an emotional connection to the scenario and the problems to be solved. This emotional connection gives the learner motivation, increases their engagement and retention, and immediately places the scenario into the real world.

Besides an emotional hook, scenarios need to be challenging enough to keep the learner engaged. There needs to be a balance for raising the challenge to match the learner’s current skills - not too difficult (which makes a scenario frustrating), and not too easy (which makes it boring). Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls this middle ground “flow”, where our work (or in this case learning) is optimized because we are neither bored nor anxious. As learners gain skills and knowledge, the scenario’s challenge is raised as learners in turn analyze and solve the problems of the scenario based on that knowledge, and the learner experiences flow.

Defining Learning Outcomes 

To help reinforce the scenario’s gradual challenge progression, the learning objectives of the training must reflect that progression in a way that culminates in the skills necessary to achieve desired business goals. Therefore, the business goal skills should be defined as objectives in terms of top-level Bloom domains (in particular synthesizing and evaluating) as a first step, followed by sub-objectives aligned with progressively lower-level domains (analyzing, applying, understanding, and remembering).

For example, say a firm is experiencing slow sales, and management feels that sales representatives could use help with their pitches. The desired outcome of the training would thus be to get learners to improve their sales skills, and the primary learning objective could be to create a sales proposal that best fits a client’s needs (an example of Bloom synthesis). To find the sub-objectives, work down the tiers of Bloom’s taxonomy to define sub-objectives to foster the primary objective:

1. Create A Sales Proposal That Best Fits A Client’s Needs (Synthesis). 

a. Given a client’s needs, seek solutions to their needs (analysis, application).

i. Identify the client’s needs (understanding).

While this is a simple example, it demonstrates how aligning real-world goals with top-level learning objectives, then using Bloom domains to create sub-objectives can create a natural progression of difficulty.

The design of the scenario-based training would now reflect the identified flow of objectives. One solution for the sales skills example would be to have learners go through a simulated conversation. The conversation would start with the client approaching the sales rep with a problem. Each step of the conversation (identify needs, identify solutions, propose solutions) would require the learner to select the best option based on the needs of the client and the soundness of the solution. Sub-optimal answers would result in a dead-end where the client walks out of the sale, and the learner is asked to review the relevant information before trying another client.

All in all, aligning top-level Bloom domains with goals-oriented learning outcomes, and creating sub-objectives on descending Bloom domains can create a natural difficulty progression. This progression can in turn create the steps to an effective scenario-based training solution to have learners experience the growth towards the skills necessary to achieve those business goals.

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