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Scenario-Based Learning 101: Beginner’s Guide

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It starts with a simple message, “Hello? Can anyone read me?” and then you find yourself dragged into a dramatic sci-fi branching scenario adventure in which you try to help an astronaut’s apprentice survive after a crash on the alien moon of Tau Ceti.

Scenario-based learning (SBL) is an immersive training environment where learners meet realistic work challenges and get realistic feedback as they progress, since everything that happens reflects the learner’s choices.

Unlike many e-courses, where learners passively absorb information by reading a text and taking a test afterward, in scenario-based training, they actively participate in the process from the very beginning to the end of the lesson. 

The example we used to start the article with isn’t actually from some sort of training; it’s Lifeline, a mobile game that was built as a text choose-your-own-adventure novel. At the same time, it’s an inspiring example of how you can create an immersive experience just with dialogue and apply it to learning.

Screenshots of branching moments in Lifelines

In Lifelines, you’ll have to google some facts, such as if it’s safe to warm yourself by a nuclear reactor in the 150 rads it’s giving off.

What Can Be Taught with Scenario-Based Learning

There are four scenarios in which you’ll benefit from scenario-based learning. It’s especially useful when:

  • a decision made at a certain point affects how things go later;
  • a task requires analysis and problem-solving skills;
  • there’s no single correct solution to the problem; 
  • it’s difficult to provide real-world practice.

For example, asking the wrong questions in sales negotiations means that you’ll have less information to help you when trying to close the deal. Or a social worker using different approaches and communication styles with a troubled teenager can lead to various results.

Below, we’ll dive into the most common cases when scenario-based training is the best option. 

Mandatory compliance training

In any company, there are some types of mandatory compliance training for employees that are required by law. This can include training on fire safety, ethical issues, inclusion, and other important but — let’s be honest — not particularly exciting topics. At the same time, serious consequences loom for organizations whose staff doesn’t do it right.

As opposed to straightforward lectures that allow you to simply mark employees as “compliant”, immersive scenario-based training puts people into a realistic context where they can see the consequences of misconduct and really change their behavior.

Communication skills training

Scenario-based learning naturally fits into interpersonal communication skills training. Branching scenarios can efficiently imitate sales and customer service dialogue, communication between managers and their teams, doctors and patients, and many other combinations.

An online course with a branching scenario is a lot like a digital role-play that enables learners to apply knowledge in a realistic context and get meaningful feedback as a reaction from a virtual person. 

A screenshot from an SBL course on phone negotiations

A simulation of a bank hotline conversation created with iSpring Suite.

Critical thinking skills training

There are two types of challenges at work: the routine tasks that require the same sequence of actions every time (e.g. filling out a customer profile in a CRM system) and the ones that require deeper analyses and understanding which allow learners to adapt guidelines to diverse situations. 

Situations such as equipment troubleshooting or finding out the reasons behind a KPI slump cannot be studied only through theoretic reading and assessment by several multiple-choice questions. Being taught this way, they will have a limited impact on real-life work decisions. Branching scenarios help you create unique industry-specific training that is focused not only on reaching the desired outcome but also on evaluating the situation and correct process of decision-making.