Read a manual about flying airplanes in storms. Fly airplane in the storm. Decide on the best actions to get safely back on land. Land safely.
An unlikely series of events, right?
Because who would actually fly with a pilot whose entire training has been based on reading a manual? No, the pilot would need to have practiced their ability to make difficult choices in a stressful situation, before we let them into that stressful situation.
So, how does one get involved in decision-making, and learn from their mistakes, without experiencing any of the real-world consequences of those mistakes? Well, it’s not as tricky as you think.
You see, scenario-based learning has been around for some time, and we’re not just talking role-plays. Branching scenarios have introduced a whole new world of related choices and assumptions that emulate realistic situations. Situations experienced in most jobs and workplaces.
What Are Branching Scenarios?
Branching scenarios are online training tools that allow learners make decisions in a realistic (but digital) scenario, and to experience the consequences of those decisions. Each scenario begins in the same way, but as the learner makes each decision, the scenario branches off along different paths with different outcomes. These outcomes depend on the choices the learner has made.
eLearning scenarios are frequently described as having a ‘domino effect’, because each decision takes the learner on a slightly different path, leaving them with a new set of decisions to make. Every decision impacts the next branch of the scenario.
For example, choosing to give a customer a large discount in the first stage of a scenario, might mean that the learner is unable to reverse the commitment later on, and may need to deal with an unpleasant encounter with her angry manager in the end.
This mode of learning has multiple benefits. Here are just a few:
● Learning becomes more fun, and less scary because mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process.
● Active participation in decision-making increases learner involvement, interactivity, and engagement, particularly for more ‘dry’ topics like procedural rules and safety regulations.
● Learners are able to learn skills in problem-solving and critical thinking and gain practical insights that cannot be achieved through more passive learning tools (like notes).
● After every decision made, learners get to see the impact of their assumptions and decisions, without experiencing the actual real-life risks and consequences (like a pilot using a simulated flight program, rather than a real airplane).
● Scenario-based eLearning complements other training components by providing an opportunity for learners to practice the knowledge gained from workshops, webinars, textbooks, etc.
But, achieving these benefits requires well-designed scenarios, and designing effective branching scenarios does have its challenges. So, we’ve come up with a few simple solutions.
5 Common Challenges (and how to solve them)
The following are five of the most commonly experienced challenges when developing branching scenarios, and how to tackle them:
1. Creating Realistic Scenarios
Sure, branching scenarios create opportunities for learning. But to add value to the business, every scenario needs to be a realistic example of a workplace situation. Because scenarios that resemble situations at work will help employees make better decisions, and perform better in their jobs.
So, the scenarios, decisions points and outcomes of each branching scenario should be real (albeit virtual) examples of actual workplace events. To do this, it’s important to focus on the kind of behaviors that learners should exhibit in different situations – like how a customer service representative should deal with an unhappy customer. These behaviors can be linked to learning outcomes.
2. Getting Learners to Relate
For scenarios that involve people, like sales, it can be challenging for learners to truly connect with virtual personalities. And if they can’t connect, then they’re unlikely to make realistic decisions or relate the impact of their decisions to real workplace scenarios.
Here, the solution is to create relatable ‘characters’ that simulate actual customers, colleagues or employees. For a manager learning to resolve intra-team conflict, the ‘arguing’ characters would need to remind them of real people with similar characteristics (age, education level, office attire) those in the team.
3. Creating Flow Between Branches
A quiz is a series of questions, sometimes with multiple possible answers. What makes a branching scenario different from a quiz is that each question, and all of its possible answers, depends on the answer to the question before. There must be a connection between each decision point in the scenario.
To create a logical flow from one decision to the next, where the impact of the choice before is experienced in the next branch of the scenario, one must design the branching scenario carefully. Start by creating a clear map of each scenario, realistic assumptions and decisions, and probable consequences of those decisions. The domino effect should be present throughout the branches of the scenario.
4. Keeping The Activity Simple
One of the biggest challenges in creating effective branching scenarios is keeping them simple.
As the number of possible situations, choices and consequences unfold, branching scenarios tend to become overly complicated. This can turn a would-be fun learning activity into an exhausting intellectual marathon.
Instead, keep it simple by focusing only on those assumptions, decisions, and consequences that are most likely to occur in a real workplace setting. Make sure that each decision-point follows clearly from the one before it, too. In the end, your branching scenario shouldn’t be more than about 10 decision-points.
5. Measuring The Impact of Branching Scenarios
Now, you’re probably thinking that it would be far easier to measure a learner’s performance on a quiz than a branching scenario. And perhaps you’re right. But evaluating the effectiveness of branching scenarios is very doable. All it takes is a more practical measurement approach, like customer feedback about the service received from sales staff, or role-plays to test management’s ability to effectively deal with underperforming employees.
By monitoring and evaluating learners’ choices in branching scenarios, and addressing poor decisions, performance gaps are identified and decision-making is improved. When paired with personal growth and mentoring programs, the immediate and practical feedback involved in branching scenarios makes them a particularly effective development tool.
Your Turn to Decide
To use branching scenarios or not to use them? Well, use them of course!
Because effective branching scenarios offer heaps of benefits, achieved with just a few simple tricks. And by keeping them short and simple, creating a library of reusable character images, and developing your own templates, this eLearning activity becomes even easier!
Now, it’s your turn to decide. Choose an innovative LMS that supports the use of interactive learning activities, like branching scenarios – one the most engaging learning tools today! If you’re not sure, why not sign up for a free account with TalentLMS?