Combining Branching Scenarios with Other Approaches for Better Results

Combining branching scenarios with other training approaches lets you use them when they matter most, while using other methods effectively.

When you think of branching scenarios, do you think of self-paced elearning, maybe of an entire course with nothing but a complex branching scenario? While a lengthy branching scenario can be effective on its own, that isn’t the only way to use this approach. Combining branching scenarios with other training approaches lets you use branching scenarios for the activities where they matter most, while using other methods where they are effective.

Sometimes I hear people worry that using a branching scenario means they are committing to creating a whole 30-minute or 60-minute course with branching, or that it has to approach the complexity of a video game to be useful. That’s not usually the case (although larger simulations can be very effective, if you have the resources and a situation that warrants the investment).

Combining Branching Scenarios with Other Approaches

Plan specific activities, not just training events

In her book Map It, Cathy Moore argues that we should focus on planning activities to match specific performance goals, rather than always creating a course or single event of training. Designing this way means we may use branching scenarios for part of the training, but not for the whole thing. Her advice is to choose “the best format for each activity, not one format for the entire project.”

If you need an activity for a skill that requires decision-making to discern between choices that aren’t absolutely right or wrong, a branching scenario may be a good choice. If you need an activity for a skill that is purely procedural, with no nuance, some other kind of practice activity is probably better. Think about your goals and when a branching scenario helps meet those goals.

Ways to use branching scenarios for practice

You can combine branching scenarios with other training formats. The branching scenario can be a practice activity as part of a larger program.

  • Culminating Practice: A branching scenario might be the final practice activity in a course where learners string together all the steps they previously practiced individually.
  • Spaced Practice: Short branching scenarios could be delivered over time to reinforce and improve skills as a follow-up to a live training event.
  • Prework Practice: A branching scenario might be useful as a prework practice activity to build skills before a live session for role play practice.
  • Refresher Practice: Branching scenarios could be available for people to access on demand to practice as a refresher right before applying the skill.

Live training with branching scenarios

In her book, Cathy Moore describes using branching scenarios in live and virtual training as well as eLearning. Live training (whether in a physical or virtual classroom) can be a great way to facilitate discussion about the gray areas of a topic. Cathy explains how one scenario worked with small groups in a live training.

Each group ran the scenario separately, debating their options. Then the larger group discussed the issues raised by the scenario. During the discussion, the facilitator helped participants identify the main takeaways.

You could also post the choices for a branching scenario on a slide in virtual training and ask people to make a choice in the chat. While polls are fast, chat gives people opportunities to explain their decision. I might consider asking a few people to describe their rationale. You can proceed through the scenario based on which choices make the points you want to demonstrate, or go through the scenario multiple times to show the results of different decisions.

Read more ideas for instructor-led training with branching scenarios.

Interested in Reading More?

Check out some of my other posts on branching scenarios.

I’m now up to over 70 posts on storytelling and scenarios if you’re looking for more.

Originally published 7/31/2018, updated 7/27/2023.

Upcoming events

Tuesday, October 31, 3:00 PM EDT: Level Up Your Elearning: Character Creation for Scenario-Based Learning. Part of TLDC’s free event From Instructional Design to Dungeons & Dragons: The Chronicles of Educaria.

In Dungeons & Dragons, character creation is the foundation of epic storytelling. In learning and development, the creation of characters plays a pivotal role in scenario-based learning. For this session, you will complete activities focused on shaping character backstories, defining their objectives, and constructing challenges that spark curiosity and foster learning. Learn tips for creating characters who are both relevant to your training context and interesting enough to spark attention. A good character for scenario-based learning is one your learners can identify with and that draws them into the story. Just like in RPGs, creating characters for workplace training scenarios requires a bit of imagination. Plan to actively participate in this session and practice creating both protagonists or player characters (PCs) and additional non-player characters (NPCs).

3 thoughts on “Combining Branching Scenarios with Other Approaches for Better Results

  1. I like this approach. We can use realistic practice activities without having the full commitment of what we often think of when it comes to a “scenario” based learning. I like how this demonstrates it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” and small branching can work effectively.

    1. Exactly. A branching scenario might be the best treatment for one particular objective, but not necessarily for the entire experience. Starting smaller is also a great way for people to try scenarios and get some experience without being overwhelmed.

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