When I create scenario-based learning, I keep these four elements in mind: characters, context, challenge, and consequences.
The main character of your scenario who drives the action should generally be someone similar to your learners. Even if the main character isn’t named and the scenario is in second person (What do you do next?), the role of that character should be familiar to your learners. Give your main character a goal that aligns to the learning objectives and that your learners share.
The other people your main character interacts with should be typical and mostly realistic, with perhaps a little exaggeration. If you’re doing customer service training, think about the different types of customers employees interact with. If you’re creating manager training, the other characters might be employees and coworkers.
The context is the background for the situation. This is often implied by the training, especially if the scenario is part of a larger course.
The context isn’t just shared with words. When you add a photo background for a scenario-based learning, you show learners the context rather than telling them.
Your learners’ work environment should match this context. It’s easier to transfer learning to a similar situation than one that’s radically different.
Your characters face challenges in the scenario. Those are the points where learners have to make a decision or take an action. The challenges are where the learning happens. Think about the frequent obstacles: faulty technology, impatient customers, or a limited budget.
Common mistakes are good challenges to include. If sales associates often forget to provide a recommendation at a specific point in the sales process, include that point in the scenario. Give learners a choice to make a recommendation or not.
You might also include challenges that happen less often but are critical to address correctly. Sales associates won’t often have to deal with a customer so angry that they threaten violence, but it’s important to know how to handle that volatile situation.
Especially in branching scenarios, the feedback should be part of the scenario rather than something you just tell them. A customer gets angry, a patient refuses to follow your recommendations, the technology continues to malfunction, or you run out of budget two months before your project is finished.
Show learners the consequences of their mistakes rather than just telling them. You might also provide coaching or instructional feedback, especially for novice learners, but don’t neglect the consequences of their actions.
While this isn’t a complete list of everything you need for scenario-based learning, these are elements I see people omit or downplay. Which of these four elements do you find most challenging to incorporate into your scenarios?
Interested in reading more? Check out all my posts on storytelling and scenarios.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants who have shared their ideas before us. My list of the 4Cs overlaps with concepts in Michael Allen’s CCAF (Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback) model. I do prefer Consequences to Feedback, as designers too often assume feedback is only verbal (although Allen explains otherwise in his great books). While I didn’t have Tom Kuhlmann’s 2009 post in mind when I wrote this, I came across it again recently. I’m sure I did read this many years ago when it was first written, and I suspect his “Challenge-Choice-Consequence” model was somewhere in my subconscious as well.
This was my 1000th post when it was originally published on 9/29/2016. Last updated 3/4/2020.