Scenario example: Chainsaw training!

What’s the best way to teach people to cut down a tree? Probably the best way isn’t the approach recommended in this scenario. However, the scenario isn’t supposed to be realistic. I wrote it to make a point.

Try the scenario below. Do you agree with my point?

(The scenario is embedded in the blog post. If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader and don’t see a clickable interaction, go to the blog post to play it.)


Photo by Stewart Black cc. Scenario was developed in Twine.

Spoiler alert! Play the scenario before you read on.

If you’re familiar with action mapping, you probably saw what I was trying to do. The best ending to the scenario required you to do some (extremely quick) analysis of why it’s hard to cut down a tree without squashing your house or car.

The analysis asks, “What decisions do people have to make? Why are those decisions tricky? How can we help people practice making the decisions in a safe place?”

Then your design focused on helping people practice the tricky things that would directly support the goal of reduced property damage. You didn’t push information into their heads and then see if they could recognize it on a test.

Of course, it’s important for customers to know the obvious stuff, like how to hold the saw when you’re cutting into a tree. We’d certainly cover that in the videos. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to focus only on that obvious stuff. The result would be “How to Use a Chainsaw” and not what we really need, which is “How to Use a Chainsaw without Destroying Your House.”

I learned to cut down trees the way most people probably should: A more experienced person went into my woods with me. He helped me analyze each tree, set up the winch and rope, plan the cut, and adjust when things began to veer horribly out of control. But if that weren’t possible, I’d look for training that let me practice the decisions in a safe place.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

More scenario examples

I’ve set up a scenario design headquarters on my site. In that section, you’ll find more scenario examples, along with a research summary, a link to all scenario posts, and some tips on using Twine, the free editor I used to create the scenario in this post.

Related posts

For more on letting people learn from their mistakes, you might check out these posts:

Makeover: How to write challenging scenario questions

We’ve all seen scenario questions that are too boring or easy. In fact, here’s one:

A member of your team is often an hour late to work on Monday mornings. What should you do?

A. Ask the team member why they’re late.
B. Refer the team member to the Employee Assistance Program for counseling.
C. Dock the team member’s pay for the missed hour of work.

How could we improve this question? Let’s look at some ideas. (We’ll look at a lot more ideas for strong scenarios in the scenario design workshops I’m giving soon in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Sydney.)

1. Focus on a specific, real performance problem

Our scenario question is weak because it isn’t based on an analysis of what’s really going wrong. Instead, it’s based on assumptions about what people are probably doing wrong.

So our first step in the makeover is to look more closely at the actual performance problem.

Girl walking on railroad trackLet’s say that our business goal is this: “Employee retention will improve 10% by 2016 as all managers use the Friendly Face at Work management model.”

We set this goal because employee turnover is high, and during exit interviews, people said managers were too harsh. We then paid a consultant $70,000 to tell us to use his patented Friendly Face at Work model.

In action mapping, every activity we write supports a specific, real-world behavior that people should perform but are messing up somehow.

In this case, the behaviors we want to see are the behaviors in the consultant’s model. The one we’re focusing on now is, “When a team member consistently fails to reach a standard, encourage them to share why they’re struggling.”

Our managers aren’t doing this. Why not?

2. Find out WHY people are messing up

In our analysis, we discover that managers already know they should ask a struggling employee what’s up. The real problem is that they don’t ask because they worry about sounding intrusive.

They’d be more comfortable if we helped them phrase the question appropriately. That’s the behavior they should be practicing: asking the question.

3. Find out in what CONTEXT people are messing up

The first draft of our question is boring because it’s so generic. Nothing in the real world is that simple. So with our subject matter expert (SME), we’ll add some realistic complexity. Here’s one possible rewrite,

Jake has worked on your team for two years. In the last two months, he’s arrived an hour late on most Mondays. He doesn’t seem as cheerful as he used to be, and a couple of times you’ve noticed that his eyes appear bloodshot. You’re pretty sure he’s married and you remember signing a congratulations card for his new baby about seven months ago, but you haven’t heard anything since then.

You ask Jake to come into your office after lunch. When he arrives, his eyes look bloodshot again, and he fidgets with his hands.

How do you start the conversation?

A. “You’ve been a great member of the team for two years, so I’m surprised that you’ve started coming in late. Is something going on?”

B. “I’ve noticed that you’re coming in late on Mondays, and I’d like to help you get back on track. What can we do to help you get here on time?”

C. “I want you to know that no matter what the situation might be, I’m here to help. Could you help me understand why you’ve been coming in late?”

This still isn’t the best question in the world, but it’s at least more subtle and realistic than the first draft. And, importantly, it focuses on what managers really need to practice: how to phrase the difficult question.

Tweaks for context

In addition to changing the focus of the challenge, we made the following tweaks:

  • We gave people names, which in a way also gives them a face as readers pull up a “Jake” from the database of people in their brain. My Jake probably doesn’t look like yours, but he has a face.
  • We provided cues that may or may not be relevant — the bloodshot eyes, the changed mood, the baby that we haven’t heard about lately. No management challenge takes place in a vacuum.
  • We put people’s words in quotation marks, adding voices to make it more real (and, in this case, to model specifically how the question should be asked).

Finally, another cue that we wrote a more challenging question is that it’s not obvious (to me, at least) which answer is correct. We have to understand the consultant’s Friendly Faces at Work model to know how we’re supposed to phrase the question.

If we can write scenario questions without the help of a SME, we’re probably writing questions that are too easy. The SME will help us write a subtle question and help us make clear through feedback which option is correct.

Scenarios require a lot of SME help, so you might want to prepare a steady supply of donuts or chocolate for your expert. In the scenario design workshop, we’ll also look at ways to quickly and efficiently get the expertise out of your SME’s brain and into a scenario.

What do you think? What has helped you write more challenging scenarios? Let us know in the comments.

All photos in this post (c) iStock


Design challenging scenarios that your learners love with my workshops this September and October in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Sydney. The first workshop is on Sept. 19 and spaces are limited, so please check out the details and make your plans!

Branching scenarios: How many decision points?

You’ve decided a branching scenario will be part of your project. But how long should it be?

First, I’m assuming that we’re talking about an exploratory or “learning” scenario, meaning a story in which learners make decisions without a lot of hand-holding and learn from the consequences of their decisions. I’m also assuming that the skill you want learners to develop is relatively complex, such as managing a conversation to create the best results.

Aim for 7 decision points in most paths

As a general rule I recommend that each path include at least 7 decision points, meaning even if I make a not-great decision, I continue down a path that includes more decisions, including ones that could lead me to a better path, and when I reach the end of the story, I’ve made about 7 (challenging! relevant!) decisions at least.

Of course, the optimal depth for an exploratory scenario will depend on a lot of factors, including the complexity of the skill you want learners to master, their attention span and tastes, and the amount of development time you have.

What about bad decisions?

In some situations, you’ll want to have short paths that go quickly to failure if there are common but egregious mistakes being made by learners in the real world.

Scenario flowchartTo see an example, try the AutoLoon Ethics Training scenario, which simulates the discussion between an instructional designer and a client who wants an information dump.

I included some short, 3-decision paths that go quickly to failure. I wanted to make clear that some common decisions made by instructional designers can quickly doom a project. Longer paths in the scenario include 10-12 decision points.

Click the image in this post to see a larger view of the flowchart, or view the inner workings of the scenario on the BranchTrack site.

Let them go back

In an exploratory scenario, I think it’s best to let learners go back to the previous decision. This encourages them to explore, and it lets you include short, “bad” paths while still making the scenario interesting.

Have some learners review an early draft

The challenge for us as designers is that we’re so deep into the story and we’ve thought through so many possibilities that the scenarios we write can look more complex to us than they do to learners.

It could be a good idea to have a handful of typical learners complete an early draft of the scenario and talk about it with you, so you can get their perspective. It can be useful to do this in a small group, so learners talk with each other and possibly debate things, giving you a sense of how much the scenario is making them think.


London workshop on June 6

Please join me and Norman Lamont in London on June 6 for the one-day, hands-on workshop “Training design for business results.” It’s action mapping on steroids. You’ll get in-depth practice applying activity-centered design to one of your projects. Learn more about the workshop.

3 powerful ideas you should steal from marketing

Marketers and trainers have the same goals: They want people to do something. But they achieve those goals in vastly different ways, and I think marketers often do it better. Let’s look at some techniques we can steal from a successful marketing video.

This post includes two embeds that probably won’t appear if you’re reading it through email or an RSS reader. I recommend you view this post in the blog.

Here’s our role model, the immensely popular commercial for the Dollar Shave Club. Not allowed to watch YouTube? Watch the same video here on Vimeo.

Put on your headphones — inappropriate language is bleeped out but could still offend.

The video was so effective that the influx of traffic knocked the Dollar Shave Club site offline. The commercial has been featured in several publications as an example of highly effective, low-budget marketing.

Now for the “training” version

What does the Dollar Shave Club guy want us to do? He wants us to go to his site and sign up for his service. Let’s look at how an instructional designer might try to inspire the same action.

Here’s the training version, without audio. Many elearning developers would have a narrator read the screen to you, but I couldn’t make myself do it.

 
What does the Dollar Shave Club guy do differently?

Here are just a few differences.

1. “I think you’re smart.”

The Dollar Shave Club guy uses a fast pace, he mocks other commercials because he knows we see them as dumb, and he lets us draw conclusions rather than telling us everything explicitly. He says, “I think you’re smart,” and that makes us like him.

The training version plods and spoon-feeds us predigested information. It doesn’t let us draw any conclusions on our own. It says, “I think you’re dumb, so dumb that I have to lead you by the nose through the most basic of information.” Who wants to be told they’re dumb?

2. “I’m an actual human being with a personality.”

The Dollar Shave Club guy really is the Dollar Shave Club guy. He’s talking about his business. He’s also an underdog in the world of shaving products, and we tend to root for underdogs.

Who’s the person behind the training version? There’s no one there. It’s the tiresome Omniscient One, the faceless, personality-free voice of the nobody who knows everything. It’s no underdog, it’s Big Brother.

Also, in the video we meet Alejandra, a person who’s real and therefore memorable. In the training version, she’s replaced by a forgettable abstraction, an “order fulfillment position.”

3. Surprise!

The Dollar Shave Club commercial is one huge surprise filled with many smaller surprises. Big surprise: “This can’t be a real ad! Wait, it is!” Smaller surprises: Everything else.

The training version, like most training materials, has zero surprises. It’s a dry, predictable conveyor belt of dry, predictable information.

Objections

You or your stakeholders might already be saying the following.

“We don’t have that kind of budget!” It’s not the budget, it’s the ideas. I’m not saying, “Produce a funny video commercial.” I’m saying, “Treat your audience like they’re smart,” “Use a real person with a personality,” and “Don’t be so predictable.”

“But we’re not selling anything. The comparison is unfair.” Marketers want to inspire a specific action. It can be “Buy the razor,” but it can also be “Sign up for our email list” or “Test drive our car.” Just like marketers, we want people to do something. We want them to encrypt emails, use the 5-step Difficult Conversations model, stop standing on chairs to reach high shelves… Marketing has tested a bajillion ways to get people to act, and we should steal the good ones.

“Obscenities are a low form of humor and we could never use them.” I’m not suggesting you use any obscenities. I’m suggesting you look at the larger picture, such as the three ideas listed above that separate lively marketing from conventional training.

What do you think? What ideas can we steal from marketing? Do you know of any elearning that applies any of these principles? Let us know in the comments!

If you thought the commercial was funny and would like to use humor in your materials, you might like my post How humor helps.

How humor helps + Powtoon review

I recently created a funny (I hope!) cartoon to motivate people to learn more, and it motivated me to learn more about how humor can improve learning.

If you don’t see the cartoon below, you can watch it here.

(If you’re a blog subscriber and are reading this in your email or RSS reader, you should see a link to the ebook at the bottom of this post.)

The cartoon is a trailer more than a “teaching” tool, since it just touches on the main points. Its design comes straight from marketing: Remind them of the pain they’re feeling, tell them they can get the cure, and ask them to act. The same pattern would probably work in any training trailer to boost enrollments.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion about the cartoon, Megan Torrance reported that in one of her projects, elearning modules with a funny cartoon trailer had twice as many signups as modules without the trailer.

The same type of cartoon could be used when a client wants “awareness” but can’t identify any behaviors that actually require that awareness. When a “course” must be created regardless of its usefulness, a cartoon would at least be more fun than an information dump.

What research says about humor

I poked around Google Scholar and found studies that seem to agree that (relevant!) humor in teaching can increase retention, motivation, and comprehension.

The use of positive humor can also increase the likeability of the instructor. This could be especially helpful in corporate elearning, where the “presenter” is often faceless and personality-free.

The article “How Laughing Leads to Learning” offers a readable summary of some research and makes several points that are relevant to corporate training. Thanks, Matthias Herrmann, for pointing it out. My main takeaways from the article:

  • Humor appears to reduce anxiety by decreasing the effects of stress hormones.
  • It appears to improve motivation and recall.
  • It should be appropriate to the audience and sprinkled here and there rather than applied with a firehose.

I’d add that humor is surprising, and surprises are memorable. As Julie Dirksen explains in her (funny!) book Design for How People Learn, “If something is exactly the way we thought it would be, there’s really no reason to allocate mental resources to reinforcing that thought or idea.”

Finally, humor often uses analogy, exaggeration, emotion, vivid imagery, and unique sounds, all of which probably make the content more memorable.

Design decisions for the cartoon

Narration: I could have uploaded narration to the tool I used, but I thought, why? What would it add? So I didn’t add it. Plus, I’m not a fan of narration, as I’ve probably made clear in this blog (like in this post).

Pacing: The quick pacing is more marketing style than training style. Even when it’s just offering the high points, training tends to be a lot slower because … why? I actually wish that elearning developers would speed up, which is another reason for my burning hatred dislike of narration. It’s ironic that we easily digest quick messages from marketing but then design elearning that plods.

Powtoon review

I made the cartoon with Powtoon, a web app. You edit and save your work online and export the files as MP4s. Although you can upload audio and visuals, all the content of my cartoon is provided by Powtoon.

Pros:

  • It’s intuitive — the timeline is simple; it’s easy to change entrances and exits.
  • The stock characters and animations inspire you to use humor.
  • There’s a decent supply of images within each “style” of images.
  • It’s easy to preview and export your cartoon.
  • Non-artists like me can easily create cartoons.

Cons:

  • You can’t change music files in the middle of a cartoon or fade the audio. I had to make two cartoons and join them in iMovie, where I also edited the audio.
  • The shortest interval on the timeline is one second.
  • The range of character styles is limited but will likely grow.
  • Other users report that it’s hard to sync narration. If I wanted to add narration to the cartoon (when pigs fly), I’d record it separately while watching the cartoon and then connect the cartoon and audio in a video editor.
  • I noticed some visual artifacts when editing, and when I exported a cartoon, it often had a random audio glitch that re-exporting usually fixed.

More thoughts on humor

I think we have a bajillion opportunities to make things lighter and more memorable without offending someone somewhere, but all I hear when I mention humor is fear. I’ve got some tips for incorporating humor in this early blog post (along with the dramatic front page of the tabloid Elearning Informer).

What do you think? Is this kind of cartoon too risky? Why don’t we use humor more often?

When do you need a branching scenario?

Elearning mini-scenario screenshot

A mini-scenario. Make your decision, see the result, that’s it.

When should you go to the trouble of designing a branching scenario? Let’s look at some examples.

First, you might not need a branching scenario. Most of the time, a one- or two-scene mini-scenario does the job fine.

In a mini-scenario, you make your decision, see the realistic consequence, and figure out if you made a good choice. You might then go to a very different scene representing a different situation.

Mini-scenarios are great for covering a lot of possible problems, but they’re not so great for getting deep into a more complex situation. For that, consider using a branching scenario.

It’s not just a series of scenes

In a branching scenario, decisions made in early scenes affect later scenes. This helps people practice such skills as:

  • Recognizing and challenging their own assumptions
  • Recovering from mistakes in a long or complex process
  • Navigating extended, ambiguous situations
  • Deciding when to stop gathering information and act

Scene from cross-cultural simulationA lot of you are familiar with the Haji Kamal scenario, in which you help an inexperienced Army officer make a good impression on an Afghan leader. You have to make many decisions in one conversation, and things you say at one point affect what happens in later points.

This wasn’t a problem for us, but it’s easy to imagine a stakeholder saying, “We shouldn’t spend all our budget on just one story! We should have lots of short scenes so we can cover things like how to deal with children, what to do when you have to search someone, what to do when someone tries to give you a gift…”

I’ve seen cross-cultural training that uses that approach. You’re tossed from one mini-scenario to another so you can practice social niceties. In one scene you accept a business card correctly, and then suddenly you’re eating in a restaurant, and then suddenly you’re deciding what gift to bring to someone’s home. This is surface training. There’s no deep change involved.

For the Army, we used a branching scenario because we wanted deeper change. Our (many!) interviews with soldiers suggested that one challenge they faced was their western perspective of “We’re here to help you, so let’s get down to business.” We wanted them to practice recognizing when that perspective was hurting local relationships and, importantly, practice recovering from mistakes.

More examples

In their “Family of Heroes” scenario (registration required but worth it), Kognito also focuses on just one conversation. Their goal is to help us see from another’s perspective, manage our emotions, and recover from mistakes. Imagine how much weaker the interaction would be if it were instead a series of unrelated one-scene snippets from the couple’s life.

In this fake language learning scenario, the branching isn’t complex. In order to make sense of later scenes, you have to choose correctly in previous ones, and the branches are just little loops to make sure you choose correctly. But because later scenes build on vocabulary learned in previous ones, your learning is repeatedly reinforced, and I hope you also gain confidence.

Part of simulation flowchart

If you want to cover different situations but also want the advantages of some branching, you might present a series of shorter scenarios. One artist’s intriguing Flash interaction uses that approach. You meet three different young people and try to talk them out of killing themselves.

Finally, at the other end of the production spectrum, the BBC helps you learn Spanish and Spanish customs with an interactive TV mystery series.

All of these use branching to some degree, because their goals include challenging our assumptions and encouraging us to build our own knowledge. While they don’t cover the variety of topics that mini-scenarios could cover, they aim for deeper change.

I’m looking for more publicly available examples of branching scenarios. There are several on my recently updated elearning examples page, but the world needs more! If you know of any, please share the links in the comments.

Upcoming workshops

Sydney, Australia, Nov. 13 2013: Join us for “Training design for business results,” a one-day workshop for learning managers at the Learning@Work conference. There’s currently a super-early-bird discount available through the Learning@Work site. Please see more details in my workshop calendar.

Other workshops in Australia and elsewhere are in the planning stages. I’ll announce them in this blog; to make sure you don’t miss anything, subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already.

Photo credit: Signpost image used to represent this post is by The Nick Page

Example of a realistic activity: Set up the laptop

I preach a lot about making activities realistic and showing the results of the learner’s choice. Here’s a good example of those principles from the folks at SmartBuilder.

In the activity, you’ll learn the ports of a laptop and apply your knowledge in a realistic situation. Go try it, and then come back here for some discussion.

A “traditional” course wouldn’t have let us explore the laptop. Instead, we’d have to sit through several slides of presentation that explained each port whether we already knew it or not.

explore-the-laptop

After we’ve explored as much or as little as we want, we’re faced with a realistic situation — and a person who speaks directly to us. It’s not “Help Bob set up his laptop,” it’s the higher-pressure “Help me.” The time limit adds some more pressure and a bit of a game element.

A person asks us to help him set up his laptop quickly for an important presentation

Finally, when we make a choice, we see the realistic result of that choice, not a patronizing “correct!” or “incorrect.”

After choosing the wrong cable, the person we're helping expresses impatience.

You can see more examples on this page of the SmartBuilder site. I use this activity and many others as examples in my instructional design workshops.

Do you get resistance to this type of activity from your stakeholders? If so, what arguments have you used to convince them that learners should be free to skip things they already know and draw conclusions from their experiences? Please share any tips you have in the comments.

Hey, Australia! I’m coming your way

I’ll be giving a one-day version of Instructional design for business results in Sydney on Nov. 13 as part of the Learning@Work conference (details to come). I’ll also be available to give workshops at your site in Australia or New Zealand between Nov. 14 and 30, so if you’d like to set something up, please let me know.

Sample branching scenario + cool tool

Branching scenarios can be a pain to design. Happily, you can use a simple tool called Twine to easily draft the scenario and produce it. In this post we’ll look at a scenario that I wrote to demonstrate Twine’s basic features and to make a point about teaching through stories.

In the scenario, you’re a journalist in a hurry to get to a hot story in Zekostan, and your “guide” can’t speak English or drive. You have to quickly learn the necessary Zeko terms to navigate the roads and respond to events along the way. The scenario was inspired by a language-learning activity designed by Kinection.

Try the activity, keeping in mind that it’s a casual, unfinished experiment. Then come back here for more about Twine and my design decisions.

Twine

Twine works in Windows and on the Mac, it’s free, and it publishes scenarios in easily customized, accessible HTML. It’s based on TiddlyWiki, a lightweight information management tool.

Each scene in a scenario is really a small record in a wiki database. The links you create determine the path that the learner takes through the records. Thanks, Steve Flowers, for pointing out Twine in the Articulate forum.

Here’s the flowchart view, which Twine automatically creates as you link your scenes (click for a bigger image):

Screenshot of Twine flowchart view

Twine offers some advantages over other ways to write scenarios. You can:

  • Quickly switch between flowchart view and story-editing mode
  • Link scenes using simple text
  • Add images and sound files and otherwise use HTML
  • Export the story in text format for review and proofing
  • Publish the finished story in HTML
  • Use simple codes to keep track of variables or limit learners’ choices (not shown in the sample scenario)

[Read more…]

Elearning example: Branching scenario

You’re a US Army sergeant in Afghanistan. Can you help a young lieutenant overcome cultural differences and make a good impression on a Pashtun leader?

That’s the challenge behind “Connect with Haji Kamal,” a decision-making scenario that my cool client Kinection and I developed for the US Army. The online scenario is the homework part of a lesson plan that includes in-class discussion about how to build rapport across cultures. It’s part of a much larger effort in the Army to strengthen soldiers’ cross-cultural and peacekeeping skills.

Turn on your speakers and give it a spin. If the site is down, the video below will give you a sense of how the activity works.

The goals

The activity is designed to be completed as homework before a culture class, and it includes a facilitator guide with debrief questions. Our goals were to model specific rapport-building behaviors and inspire class discussion.

To follow the “good” paths, you need to see things from Haji Kamal’s point of view, show respect and patience, and otherwise apply cross-cultural skills that will be discussed in class. You end up on less successful branches by making more ethnocentric choices. [Read more…]

Prove it with a prototype

Are you dreaming of an immersive simulation while your team members plan yet another Jeopardy game? If you want stakeholders to expand their horizons, a working prototype is your best friend.

A working prototype has simple placeholder graphics, but the clicking and dragging work as they will in the final activity. Build a quick-and-dirty version of the activity of your dreams, and use it to convert everyone on your team.

Here’s a two-part video that shows what I mean. Leif Cederblom of SmartBuilder compares two prototypes of the same activity and highlights the goals and benefits of prototyping.

Part 1: The conventional drag-and-drop: busywork that’s easy to forget

Part 2: A more realistic activity that’s more likely to change behavior

Try both prototypes yourself and see how the contrast between the two underscores the power of the more realistic activity. No amount of polish would make the drag-and-drop more than a rote activity, while the “leave the lab” prototype is effective even in its raw, prototype form.

Scenario design online course

Learn more