Scenarification: Coining A Term
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The Art Of Scenarification: Degrees, Benefits, And Best Practices

The last thing this industry needs is a new buzzword, especially considering how caught up we can get with our terminology. Despite this, I propose that we add two words to our vocabulary—not because they are "hot", but because they are concise and intuitive. Here they are:

Scenarification (noun): The application of scenario-based learning techniques to an instructional intervention.

Scenarify (verb): To apply scenario-based learning techniques to an instructional intervention.

These are the "scenario" equivalents of gamification and gamify. We do not say that we will "implement game-based learning techniques to make the instruction more interactive". We say that we will gamify it. In the same vein, we can scenarify our learning experiences and praise the benefits of scenarification. Hence, the purpose of this article.

3 Degrees Of Scenarification

1. Scenarified Questions

Scenarification can take on many forms, but the most common are scenarified quiz questions. For example, at the end of a course that trains managers how to deal with inefficient employees, the learner is presented with the following question:

Bob started working at your company three months ago. He loves the job and gets along well with his coworkers, but he is having trouble meeting deadlines. What should you do to help him get back on track?

This example is a simplification, but these type of questions abound. They invite the learner to apply what they have learned to a potential real-world situation. However, scenarifying the experience in this way does not extend beyond the question itself.

2. Avatars, Hosts, And Models

To bring it up a notch, an avatar or model can guide the learner through the entire experience. In a recent eLearning project of mine, I set out to teach the learner what a vegan is (as opposed to a vegetarian or omnivore). Rather than send them through slide after boring slide about the differences, I incorporated a host that immediately invites the learner to help her shop for a vegan dinner party later that night.

This can be used in many other settings. If you are training an employee how to differentiate between the various software development approaches, you can present them with a 'coworker' that has a big project coming up and needs help choosing the most effective development approach. This 'coworker' can return continuously throughout the experience to give more details about the project, ask the trainee for advice, and offer encouragement.

3. Choice And Branching

Finally, the highest degree of scenarification incorporates choice and branching scenarios. The learner has the freedom to make mistakes, choose their own path, and directly impact the experience. In one of my early Storyline projects, I invited the learner to help raise the issue resolution rate at a call center. To do so, they had to conduct a needs assessment and implement the appropriate solutions. They could conduct the needs assessment in any fashion they chose, and they were free to implement ineffective solutions. Therefore, the entire experience is situated within the context of helping a real-life call center improve its performance.

Also, while I'm currently in the process of creating my first large branching project, Li Whybrow has compiled 5 excellent examples with great commentary on each. To put it briefly, though, this degree of scenarification wraps the entire experience into a single overarching scenario. Instead of answering disjointed, scenarified multiple choice questions, everything that the learner does is situated within the unifying scenario.

Why Scenarify Your Learning Experiences? 3 Benefits Of Scenarification

Now that we're on the same page with the terms, let's discuss why scenarification is so effective. There are plenty of research-backed arguments about the benefits of scenario-based learning, but here are a few of the reasons that I find most compelling. The higher the degree of scenarification, the more that the following reasons will apply.

1. Puts The Learner In Control

When the learner is tasked with raising an issue resolution rate, shopping for a vegan dinner party, or helping out a virtual coworker, it puts them in control. They are no longer passively pressing a next button; they are considering what must be done to accomplish the goal. Even though the characters are virtual, they are still relying on the learner to help them solve the problem or accomplish the task. This can serve as a powerful form of motivation.

2. Provides Useful Feedback

If the learner chooses an answer that is not the best choice or lets the avatar down, they receive feedback with the real-world consequences of their choice. They are able to see the consequences of their mistakes in a low-risk setting, and, once they receive the appropriate feedback, they would be better geared to avoid that mistake on the job (where the consequences matter).

3. Contextualizes The Experience

Well-designed, scenario-based experiences can be much more engaging than level-1, text-on-a-slide training. That's because the context immerses the learner; it helps pull them from any off-topic internal dialogue and bring them into the action. This helps learning outcomes, but it also makes the experience more enjoyable and satisfactory for the learner.

3 Scenarification Best Practices

If you're sold on scenarification, then that's good news for many future learners to come. The next question is where to start.

1. Work Backwards

Many times, it's good to start with the end of the scenario in mind. In my vegan dinner party example, I knew that I wanted the experience to culminate in an HTML5 game that requires the learner to catch falling vegan items in a shopping cart. If they catch a non-vegan item, it's game over. Once I had this in mind, I knew exactly what the rest of my experience had to lead up to.

Knowing where your experience will end is useful for writing branching scenarios, planning dialogue, and clarifying your instructional goals.

2. Identify Your Trigger Event

The trigger event initiates the scenario. When I asked myself "Why would the learner need to catch falling food items?" I decided that they would be shopping for a vegan dinner party. Once this was determined, I knew that my experience would begin with the host asking the learner to help. This gives purpose to the experience and shows the real-world context in which the learner would need to apply their new knowledge or skills.

3. Use Avatars

Avatars go hand-in-hand with scenarification. If the dialogue feels natural, it amplifies the immersive effect of the scenario. In other words, the more lifelike the avatar feels to the learner, the more likely that the learner invests themself in the scenario.

Wrapping It Up

Scenarifying your learning experience is a great way to increase learner satisfaction and drive positive performance outcomes. However, this practice is as much an art as it is learning science. To immerse the learner in the experience, the dialogue must be natural and the storytelling convincing.

When executed well, scenarification transports the learner, shows them the real-world consequences of their choices, and leaves them feeling more experienced and satisfied by the end of the course. If this is not part of your eLearning toolkit, there's no time like the present to incorporate it.

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