12 scenario-based training examples

Play with 12 examples of branching scenarios from a wide variety of scenario-based training and consider questions that help you think about your own design.

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?

3: Hana Feels

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: Sales simulation with audio

By Elucidat
You sell video editing software, and you know that Leon might need your software. Is he really a good prospect? Try the activity.

Questions to consider: The activity encourages you to review some basic information before the call, but it's not required. What does this tell you about how the designers view your intelligence? Does that affect your motivation?

You're given only two choices at each point. Does that feel like enough? Would the activity be more challenging with more options, or would the additional choices feel like a burden?

At each decision point, you get instant corrective feedback. How does that affect the "feel" of the simulation? Does it matter?

For the audio, the developers used an actor who sounded natural. Often, voice actors sound like they're reading a script. What made the actor sound more natural? How could you coach a voice actor to sound this way?

5: Costas is HIV positive

Developed as part of the WAVES Network 
You've discovered that your patient, Costas, is HIV positive. He doesn't want to tell his wife. What can you do? Try the scenario.

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

By Will Interactive
You're a manager and need to respond to several situations that might affect the professionalism of the workplace. How should you respond? Try the demo.

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 Zekonia, but your guide doesn't speak English. Can you learn enough Zeko to follow his directions? Try the scenario

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: Residential technician training

By Allen Interactions
Can you find the problems with this equipment and choose the correct replacement? Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC technicians practice realistic tests and make decisions in this activity.

Questions to consider: The challenges are preceded by cheerful text explanations. Are the explanations helpful? Could they be made more concise, or should they be left as they are? 

Instead of seeing the consequence of our decision, we're given corrective feedback, such as being told we chose the wrong motor. Why did the designers take this approach?

We don't know if the learners were also given references to use in the field. Do you think people will remember what they learned in the interaction, or should they have some job aids to take with them? What information in the activity could be turned into a job aid?

The description of the project doesn't include the business goal. What problems might this type of elearning help solve? How might we measure the success of this project?

11: 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.

12: Example of a "branching" scenario that doesn't branch

By Cathy Moore; developed in Twine
Flowchart showing a teaching scenario structureIs it okay to be a control freak when you write a branching scenario? Try this quick example and decide if it's ever a good idea to lead people by the nose.

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?

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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.

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