Branching scenarios help people practice doing what they do on the job and learn from the consequences. Here are several examples from scenario-based training to give you ideas..
The inclusion of an activity on this page doesn't mean, "Hey, you should do exactly this!" I chose these examples because they raise questions that will help you think more deeply about your own scenario design.
1: Steer the client in the right direction
By Cathy Moore, developed in Twine
Carla wants you to create a course about a personality inventory. She says the course will help managers be more empathetic. She's already created a slide deck, so it should be easy!
This project will be another time-wasting information dump unless you steer Carla in a better direction. Try the scenario.
Chapter 3 of my book describes how to start projects right by encouraging clients to analyze the performance problem, not just throw training at it. This scenario helps you practice a small part of that skill.
Questions to consider: This scenario isn't meant to stand alone. It's a small part of the Partner from the Start toolkit. It's preceded and followed by many more activities, all designed to help you practice starting a project right with a client like Carla.
However, it's common for designers to create just one activity for each skill. For example, they present some tips and then have learners practice with one scenario.
How effective would this activity be if it were the only practice you had for managing the handoff conversation? If you used just this scenario, would you be able to manage your next handoff meeting with significantly better results?
2: Connect with Haji Kamal
By Kinection with Cathy Moore, developed in Flash
You’re a US Army sergeant in Afghanistan. Can you help a young lieutenant make a good impression on a Pashtun leader? That’s the challenge behind “Connect with Haji Kamal.” See a video of the activity and learn how it was designed.
This activity is a small part of larger training. It was designed to stimulate discussion in a live session. Soldiers completed the activity the night before a classroom session.
Questions to consider: What kind of feedback does the activity provide? Why didn't we just tell players what they were doing right or wrong? Why did we include two helpers who don't agree?
By Gavin Inglis, developed in Twine
Something is bothering young Hana. Can you figure out what it is and find the best way to help her? You choose what several people say, including a crisis line volunteer, Hana's boss, and a friend. Play it here.
Questions to consider: You don't choose everything that each person says. Instead, you pick a statement that might send the conversation down a different path, and the author fills in the rest of the conversation. How could you apply this to soft skills training, such as an activity on handling a difficult conversation? Or is it better to require the player to choose every statement their character says?
4: At-Risk for High School Educators
You're a high school teacher. One of your students, Rene, has been seeming stressed and anxious, and one of her friends told you she might be cutting herself. Can you persuade Rene to go to the school counselor? Click "Take demo" on this page (registration required).
Questions to consider: Like "Hana Feels," this scenario has you choose the direction of the conversation, rather than making you choose everything you say. Unlike "Hana Feels," the designers have you choose your strategy first, such as "Make small talk," and then choose your statement. What's the effect of choosing the strategy first? Will it help you navigate similar conversations in real life?
Like most of the scenarios on this page, your main "feedback" is simply the next scene in the story. However, if you make a poor decision in this scenario, you might receive a hint that explains why Rene reacted as she did and what you might do differently. You might be encouraged to undo your previous choice and try again. Is this intrusive or helpful? Does this help you refine your strategy?
5: Costas is HIV positive
Questions to consider: The scenario has an "old school" look. Many designers invest a lot of effort into making their activities look more slick. How important is a slick look? For example, did you need to see a photo of Costas in order to make your decisions? Did the look and feel of the activity affect your ability to be pulled into the story?
In my scenario design toolkit, I have participants go through a similarly "old school" scenario. Participants often say that they didn't need to see photos of the characters or other bells and whistles -- the story was compelling enough on its own. However, clients and learners may expect a higher level of production.
Your goal is apparently to get the best result for both Costas and his family. How difficult is it to reach that result? Did you want help or hints to make it easier?
6: Medical diagnosis scenario
By SmartBuilder, developed in SmartBuilder
Your patient has bruising and swelling on her face. What questions should you ask her to quickly make the right diagnosis? Try the scenario, which is "Patient Management" on this page.
Questions to consider: Compared to the previous medical scenario, this one is more "slick." How does the production style affect your learning? What are some arguments for investing in this level of production?
You'll diagnose the patient by asking questions. The scenario requires you to choose all your questions at once, before you can read the answer to any of them. The patient's answer to one question sometimes makes a question you chose earlier irrelevant.
Why might the designers have chosen this approach? Why don't they let you choose one question at a time and let the patient's response help determine the next question, as happens in the real-world exam? (My guess: Their approach requires less branching, but it means that the scenario isn't as realistic.)
7: Sexual harassment training scenario
Questions to consider: Why did the designers use video rather than text or text with images? What do they gain from video, and what potential problems does the format create?
Why did the designers give you only two options at most decision points? What would be the effect on your decision-making if you had three options instead? What type of feedback did you usually receive? Was it a natural consequence of your choice? Did this affect your motivation in any way?
8: Learn to speak Zeko
By Cathy Moore; developed in Twine
You’re a journalist rushing to a hot story in Zekostan, but your guide doesn't speak English. Can you learn enough Zeko to follow his directions? Try the scenario and then see this blog post to learn how I produced it with an early version of Twine.
This experimental scenario shows one type of scaffolding: It structures the activity so people learn a bit at a time, building on previous knowledge. In contrast, the traditional approach would be to first present the basic Zeko words and have you memorize them, maybe as a flashcard game that translates from English to Zeko and back again. Only then would you be allowed into a story to "apply what you've learned."
Instead, I throw you directly into the activity. The activity itself teaches you the words, in context, one at a time. This avoids inefficient, in-the-head translation and gives your brain a stickier way to store the information, as visuals or scenes in a story. At least, that's the idea.
9: Set up the laptop technical training scenario
By SmartBuilder, developed in SmartBuilder
You need to help someone set up their laptop for a presentation that starts in a few minutes. Try the original Flash version of the activity, and compare it to the newer version under "Using Computer Ports" on their examples page.
Questions to consider: Why does the designer let you skip the "learn about the ports" section? In the new version of the activity, you have to drag the cable to the correct port. Is this better than just clicking on it? Finally, the new version uses photos that show stronger emotion. What is the effect of this?
10: Software training scenario
By Allen Interactions
You're a medical professional talking to a patient, and you need to update some information in their medical record. Try the activity by clicking "Access the course demo" on this page at Allen Interactions.
Questions to consider: If there's a tour of the software showing what each menu item does, it's not included in the this activity. Instead, the activity tosses you into the software, with optional help in the gold bar at the top. If the designers required you to take a tour before tossing you in, how would that affect your experience of the activity?
Also, how is feedback provided? Could the designers provide more "showing" feedback, such as fast-forwarding to show the patient experiencing a bad reaction because you recorded something incorrectly? Or would that weigh down the activity?
11: Disaster response scenario
By Environment Agency (UK)
Two trains have collided and one is now on fire. It was carrying acrylonitile, which could make people sick if it catches on fire. You're in charge of protecting the air quality. Who should you call, and how can you stay on top of the situation? Try the activity (Flash).
Questions to consider: What is the effect of the media on the first slide, when you simultaneously experience video, a narrator, and text? Later, what kind of feedback do you receive? Does it seem to fit in the story as a natural consequence of your choice? What reference information might the activity link to?
12: Law enforcement scenario-based training
By Allen Interactions
Can you recognize gang activity and respond appropriately? Jump into a squad car and tour the neighborhood, interpreting graffiti and trying to get information from possible gang members. A notebook acts as an optional reference. Try the activity (registration required).
Questions to consider: A "traditional" approach would be to first show you all the gang symbols and have you memorize them. Only then would you be allowed to get in the fictional car and interpret them in the street. Instead, the activity puts you directly into the car. If you don't understand a sign, you can look it up in a notebook. Why did the designers do it this way? What's the advantage of letting people pull the information as they need it?
In many projects, a stakeholder would say, "But we have to make sure learners are exposed to all the information! What if someone thinks they know a gang sign but they're wrong?" How would you respond to that concern?
Also, the activity provides some "telling" feedback. Who provides it? Why did the designers choose that person to give you feedback?
13: Weak example of a branching scenario
By Cathy Moore, developed in Mac Keynote and Hype
Your client wants you to convert her content into an online course. Can you steer her away from that bad idea? Try this simplistic scenario that I created several years ago to test some ideas.
This is a weak scenario. Many scenarios I see are like this one -- the decisions are too easy and the stock photos unnecessary. The idea is solid, but because I spent so long sourcing graphics and building slides, I had little time to write a decent challenge. My slide-based tool (similar to PowerPoint) made extensive branching difficult, so I made the story too simple. For a more realistic scenario on the same topic, see the first example on this page.
14: Example of a "branching" scenario that doesn't branch
I like to call this structure the "control freak" scenario. It works like this: You're presented with the first scene of a story and choose an option, let's say B. You see immediate feedback that tells you that you chose incorrectly, and that you should really do what's described in option A. The scenario sends you back to the same scene and this time you obediently choose A.
Now you see the second scene, and the process repeats. If you choose correctly, the story advances. If you choose incorrectly, you have to go back and do it right. There's usually plenty of feedback telling you what you did wrong and what you should do instead.
A lot of designers create this structure as their first scenario. It's easier to manage than full branching, and all the teacherly feedback feels familiar and "helpful." But do adults really learn best when they're constantly interrupted and corrected? How might the structure and feedback affect people's motivation?
Scenario design toolkit
Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios, on the job. This self-paced toolkit walks you through all the steps, and interactive tools help you make the tricky decisions.
Build your performance consulting skills
Stop being an order taker and help your clients solve the real problem. The Partner from the Start toolkit helps you change how you talk to stakeholders, find the real causes of the problem, and determine what type of training (if any!) will help.