How Long Should a Branching Scenario Be?

How long should a branching scenario be? Is 45 minutes too long? Is there an ideal length for a branching scenario?

I recently got a question from a reader about how long a branching scenario should be. Specifically, she was asked to create a very large branching scenario, and wanted to know how feasible that would be.

I would love your expertise on whether you think a 45-min branching scenario sim in [Storyline] is too long. Is there a magic number or ideal amount of time for this type of learning experience?

Also, how many paths with how many decision points ideally should I expect to create for a 45-min simulation or shorter if 45 is too long, which I’m thinking it might be.

45 minutes is too long

45 minutes of branching scenario would likely require months of development. I think it’s too long, not because it wouldn’t necessarily be valuable to learners, but because it would be so complex to build.

That’s especially true for people who are just getting started building branching scenarios. A 45-minute scenario would be overwhelmingly complex for someone building their first branching scenario.

Personally, I might be able to build one in around 300-400 hours of work, but I have lots of experience and am pretty fast at writing scenarios. Even so, I would hesitate to commit to that large of a branching scenario.

Number of slides for 45 minutes of branching: 150-300+

For the number of slides, let’s start with an assumption of one minute per slide–quick narration with lots of decisions. That’s 45 slides for the ideal path, but the actual number is at least 3 times that (135 slides). With some intro and closing slides, it’s probably around 150 slides total, each of which needs custom navigation and not just the previous and next button. If you have a little more complexity in the branch and bottleneck structure, you could easily hit 200+ slides, and 300+ slides wouldn’t be out of the question.

Voice over for 45 minutes of branching = 135 minutes

You might consider including voice over. That would reduce the overall word count because people read faster than they speak However, it would also increase the multimedia complexity and make it harder to edit.

Even if you use a limited branching or gauntlet/looping structure, you need 2 extra slides for each decision. That means you’re probably looking at about 3 times the length it would be for linear content. Instead of 45 minutes, you’d need about 135 minutes of audio.

Voice over is an average of 180 words per minute, so 135 * 180 = 24,300 words. If you pay your voice over artist $0.20/word, that’s almost $5K just for voice over.

Usually 5-15 minutes

Most of the time, the branching scenarios and simulations I build are around 10 minutes long. Overall, I usually end up at 5-15 minutes for branching scenarios, with interactive video scenarios being at the longer end.  

For example, I’ve used this branching scenario as an example in a couple of posts.

Branching scenario with color-coded passages

While the structure there only shows around 50 passages, the final version in Storyline included 75 slides. Even at 75 slides, it only takes about 10 minutes for learners to complete. The structure is a fairly shallow branch and bottleneck to make it easier…and it still took around 60 hours to build that 10 minute scenario.

That length of about 5-15 minutes is what I see from others in the field as well. For example, Clark Aldrich’s Short Sims are typically 6 minutes long, according to his website. His company creates some “Short Shorts” of 2-3 minutes long, as well as some longer 10-12 minute long simulations. Clark intentionally keeps the simulations short, partly so they can be built faster.

Multiple smaller scenarios

Instead of creating a single 45-minute scenario, one option is to create one or more smaller branching scenarios. You could create a series of shorter branching scenarios. Alternatively, these smaller scenarios might be combined with other linear content.

If you’re training a large amount of content, one option would be to have some more traditional linear elearning for part of the content, plus a branching scenario at the end for a final practice exercise.

Another option is to create a branching scenario at the beginning to get people’s attention, then some content interspersed with mini-scenarios, then a final branching scenario practice/assessment.

Looking for more?

Interested in reading more about this topic? Check out these posts.

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