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Have you ever had to complete an elearning course that seemed entirely unrelated to what you do? Maybe a compliance training which could've been a list of bullet points pinned to the company bulletin board?

When an online training course isn't built upon something learners want to do, but something they have to do, it can be a real challenge to make the subject matter engaging and relevant to each learner. A great way to address this problem is by using a learning design principle called Scenario-Based Learning.

Why use Scenarios?

Scenario-based Learning means using realistic and relatable stories and situations to present your content. This is not a new concept per se; it's the reason math's books are filled with accounts of children trading strange amounts of fruit with each other!

The key difference that elearning provides instructional designers is the ability to put the learner in the driver's seat; allowing them to make choices that shape the scenario's outcome. Rather than passively absorbing information and repeating it to pass the test at the end, scenario-based learning requires the learner to make decisions and solve problems by applying the knowledge they have gained throughout the course.

Creating effective scenarios

When creating a scenario for your elearning course, the first step is to identify the key learning objectives of your course. What behavioural changes are you trying to achieve amongst your learners? What problem is the course designed to solve? Build your scenario around these factors.

Next, you can start building the scenario itself. Think about your audience and create a story that is relatable and easily transferable to their experience.

Remember, your decisions in real life aren't always black and white - try to reflect this in your scenarios. Don't be afraid to make your scenario genuinely challenging. It can be a good thing to slow the learner down and encourage them to think through the problem.

A well-designed scenario should drive the learner to use their problem-solving skills, applying the knowledge they have acquired in a realistic context. Feedback should be provided to the learner along the way, as this will help solidify good choices, and prompt reflection on areas that could have been better.

An example of Scenario Based Learning

So, what might a scenario-based approach look like? Let's think of an example.

Imagine an electronics retailer is looking to provide an elearning course to bring its salespeople up to speed for the launch of a new series of smartphones.

Rather than simply presenting the learners with all the technical details and pricing for each product, the information could be presented as a part of a simulated sales interaction with a hypothetical customer.

The user would take on their real-world role as a salesperson and be introduced to a series of hypothetical customers. These customers would provide some initial information about what type of product they are looking for. The user would choose what questions to ask each customer, aiming to narrow down which products might suit them best. Finally, they would be asked to decide which product to recommend. Feedback on their choices is provided after they have completed the scenario.

Advanced Scenario presentation methods

Flashy high-tech components are not required to create an engaging scenario-based course. Take our sales training example for instance; it could be delivered using a simple multiple-choice interface and some pictures. However, if you have the time and scope to deep dive into more complex design elements, you can achieve outstanding results.

An Interactive video is a great way to add an engaging, visual element to your scenarios and flesh out the characters and situations.

In our example, the customer's conversations could be shown using video to make the scenario more engaging and introduce elements such as the customer's body language into consideration.

Gamified scenarios are another option. Your course could award points for making correct decisions, or provide a skill-based challenge to pass a specific section. You could even include a high score table, to encourage friendly competition among learners.

In our example, gamification could involve tracking the user's total dollar sales value during the simulation.

Elearning courses are at their best when they involve interaction and learner choice – not as one way information overloads!

What kinds of stories can your elearning tell?

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