When the goal of training is changing employee behavior — teaching them to conduct themselves or perform a process in a particular way — scenario-based training is an extremely effective approach.

Scenario-based training is relevant and effective

Creating realistic scenarios that learners can use to formulate, study, and “try on” a variety of responses to situations they could face on the job sharpens their performance and increases their skill.

  • Scenarios should describe incidents or situations that learners will recognize as familiar and likely to occur on the job. This brings relevance to the training that makes it memorable.
  • Scenario-based training is generally interactive, asking learners to think about different potential responses or solutions.
  • Realistic scenarios offer learners the chance to problem-solve and to practice, mentally at least, for situations they might face. This prepares them with one or more appropriate responses, making them more effective while also boosting their confidence.
  • Well-written scenario-based training allows learners to try out multiple responses and analyze and learn from the potential repercussions of each.
  • Scenario-based training provides a safe space where learners can practice and learn from their errors — before making costly or embarrassing mistakes in situations with actual customers or colleagues.

Scenario-based training comes in many packages

Many cardboard box packages on winding conveyor belts and rollers.

Training that uses scenarios ranges from multiple-choice questions that include a mini-scenario to fully immersive branching scenarios set in a virtual environment that allows learners to viscerally experience the situation and the outcome of their choices. And includes everything in between:

Mini-scenarios

Two- to three-sentence scenarios set up a situation and ask learners to choose a response. These can be used in quiz questions and knowledge-check activities.

Short simulations

Brief exercises that take 10 minutes or less and pose a situation, along with multiple response options, short simulations are relatively quick and easy to create and use.

Branching scenarios

Whether presented as text-based content, PowerPoint slides, or interactive video, branching scenarios can be complex and detailed. They might feature one or more “characters” who represent employees in roles similar to the learners’ and present situations that the learners have also faced. Learners generally can explore each of the possible solutions or responses and learn what could happen as a result of each choice.

Within eLearning courses

Short or long, simple or complex, scenarios can be integrated into a conventional eLearning course or stand on their own as interactive digital learning.

Virtual reality (VR) environments

Creating immersive scenario-based learning within a VR environment is especially effective, as learners feel as if they have actually experienced the situation.

A learning game

A learning game might feature a series of scenarios, where the learner’s responses affect the choices they face farther along. In these complex scenario-based learning games, there may be more than one response that is plausible or acceptable. Playing the game over and over and making different choices can provide learners with a wealth of information and feedback on potential solutions to realistic problems.

Benefits of using scenarios in learning

Providing a safe way for learners to practice confronting difficult or dangerous situations or performing complex procedures is a clear benefit of scenario-based learning. In addition, the scenarios are engaging — so much so that learners often return to them and complete them again and again. This provides spaced repetition, which reinforces knowledge and builds retention.

By providing immediate feedback for each choice, a scenario shows cause and effect in a way that fact-based learning does not. Scenario-based learning also hones learners’ skills and helps them respond more effectively when they do encounter a similar situation on the job. It can even sharpen related skills, like clear communication or critical thinking.

Poor Use with
Adult Learners
Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenge employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Award points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Award levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

  • Remember — bookmark, google, link, search
  • Understand — annotate, Boolean search, journal, tweet
  • Apply — chart, display, execute, present, upload
  • Analyze — attribute, deconstruct, illustrate, mash, mind map
  • Evaluate — comment, editorialize, moderate, network, post
  • Create — blog, film, integrate, podcast, program, publish
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Comparison of the Three Levels of eLearning Content
Type
Off-the-shelf subscription libraries
Pros
  • Saves development time - you don’t have to create any courses yourself.
  • Good fit for a limited budget.
  • Quick to set up and launch.
  • Access to hundreds of courses on a wide variety of topics.
Cons
  • Users cannot make any changes to the pre-existing content.
  • Users do not own any of the content.
  • An overwhelming amount of courses and a short time in which to complete the training can create a higher likelihood of users experiencing learner fatigue.
  • Learners may view content that isn’t relevant to their learning objectives.
  • Time and resources can be spent curating your content library to suit your learners.
Type
Course customization
Pros
  • A premade course that is quick to set up and launch.
  • Customization options such as adding your logo, branding, choice of colors, or some fonts.
Cons
  • You do not own the content of the course.
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
Type
Fully custom courses
Pros
  • Completely tailored to meet your organization's audience, needs, and strategies.
  • You have limitless creative potential.
  • You own the original content/IP.
  • Prevent learner fatigue through personalization.
  • You can change, personalize, and maintain the courses however you want and at your discretion.
Cons
  • More expensive - custom courses are a bigger investment for both time and resources.
  • Learners will not have access to as many course options as quickly as they would through a library subscription.
  • A professional eLearning development team should be assigned to this project - either hired in-house or contracted.
Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

Read more articles by Pamela S. Hogle