Tell Me A Story: Cutting Edge Scenario Based eLearning

Tell Me A Story: Cutting Edge Scenario Based eLearning
Summary: Are you an eLearning designer trying to move on from click-and-read courses? Do you realize the value of non-linear and scenario-based learning? Then this post will help you to structure your course so it’s more engaging and effective for your end user.

Create Cutting Edge Scenario Based eLearning

If you take a look at one example of effective eLearning, such as Lifesaver, you’ll become aware quickly of the principles that make it an example of great scenario based eLearning. First, it puts you straight into the vortex of the action. It has a cast that you soon get involved with. It then dumps you right in the middle of a big old problem and makes you the one who has to take the decisions, with the clock ticking down, oh, and if you make the wrong decision, someone dies! So no pressure then. And it does this all through an unfolding scenario of events, told in the context of everyday life, in settings and with characters you are familiar with. The point is to provide you with a safe environment to practice responding to given situations. If you make a mistake, no one really dies – this time. Instead you get to practice again until you get it right. The premise is, learn from mistakes, and be ready with the right actions to apply to a real life event. Elearning doesn’t get much better than that. So what makes ‘scenario’ based eLearning?

Well, strip it back to design principles and all scenarios are stories: they have a context, some characters and some problems that need overcoming. So let’s break these principles down a little:

  1. Story
    Give the training relevance: consider what the real world contexts are for the specific topics and issues being addressed in the course, because training is about real situations. Get your subject matter expert (SME) to help identify authentic situations that will be relevant to the learners. Concentrate on situations where people can make mistakes. Build content around activities, not the other way around and tie the content to desired outcomes.
  2. Script
    At the heart of a great TV drama or movie, is a fantastic script. And part of what makes a script terrific is how it defines characters. So you need to be writing engaging and authentic dialog. If you struggle and can’t hire a scriptwriter, try creating a storyboard of the training scenario, a bit like a comic book, and sketch in some speech bubbles. Then try rewriting your content from the point of view of the characters, in dialogue rather than narrative. E.g. instead of In case of a heart attack, deploy a defibrillator, try

    • Character 1: Can you find a defibrillator or AED?
    • Character 2: Where do I find one of those?
    • Character 1: Try a shopping centre or station. Look for a metal box saying AED.
  3. Characters you know or recognize
    In Broken Co-worker the characters are real and believable. We all sort of know an Emma at work or in our local social circles. But the way we deal with the issues people like Emma raise, is tackled in Broken Coworker with humanity as well as professionalism in sight. And that means the way you respond to the challenges it throws you can sometimes lead to surprising feedback. The Virgin Atlantic Safety Film, whilst strictly not eLearning  nevertheless provides a good example of using storytelling effectively to get a message across. It takes the exact format of the onboard safety training demo and with some real panache rescripts and recharacterizes it using some really well-known movie genres. The result? Very engaging and highly memorable. In the Up to Speed program for Sky, the team at Brightwave have clearly worked with Sky’s SME’s to build a whole family of Sky customers who star in the training. Each character is at the heart of scenario-driven activities, engaging the learner in developing skills to help build customer satisfaction and retention.
  4. Tension
    Scenarios help you to construct challenges and activities around real pain points to help learners practice resolving these in real life. Epic Group’s superb program for the UK Department of Work & Pensions, Lost IPO’s set the bar for scenario based eLearning when it was developed way back in 2002. High-res full-screen interactive video puts the learner right in front of the characters, eyeball-to-eyeball. Each interaction requires the learner to make decisions about how to respond in some highly charged situations in order to get the characters to be cooperative in the interview over their lost benefits books. In Elucidat’s Fraud Prevention demo course, simple branching scenarios provide a framework for presenting the learner with a challenge and consequences-style feedback to help raise awareness of how the two characters can unwittingly become victims of fraud.
  5. Resolution
    With scenario based eLearning, the point is you don’t get to go down the same learning path as other learners. How you go through depends on how you respond. And ultimately, you fail or succeed. Except, you don’ fail. Good learning design works with branching logic that will always engineer a point at which the learner gets on track and reaches a successful resolution. This is generally done with feedback loops, providing feedback to a challenge with inbuilt support to help the learner improve with a second attempt or with remedial practice. In the Finance Game, Epic co-wrote with the BBC  if the leaner fails following a couple of attempts, a friendly avatar guide steps in to break down the problem into solvable chunks and give some solid advice without actually forcing the learner to jump through the hoop of answering a question correctly. It’s actually hard to fail the game – at the end the cumulative score and feedback takes into account that whilst you may be utterly rubbish with money, your staff satisfaction levels are through the roof!


So, in summary, scenario based eLearning is effective because it provides a framework for learners to practice in a safe environment and learn from mistakes. In order to do this in an engaging manner, good scenario based eLearning draws on stories, which are contextualized in the real world. The stories they draw on are relevant to the pain points or issues the learner faces in their role and at work. The characters are believable and challenges which are modeled on real world issues. Do you have any examples of superb scenario-based eLearning? We’d love for you to share, just use the comments area below this post. And why not check out some really easy to use tools to help you get started with your scenario based eLearning.