Mini-Scenarios for Assessment

Use one-question mini-scenarios to make your assessments more relevant and valuable. They’re fast, flexible, and can work in virtually any tool.

Does scenario-based learning always have to involve complex branching or simulations? No! You can use one-question mini-scenarios to make your assessments more relevant and valuable. Mini-scenarios are fast and easy to build. You don’t need any special tools; you can use any tool that can create a multiple choice question.

Traditional Assessment or Mini-Scenarios

Typical multiple choice question

Imagine you’re creating a course for managers about motivation and using rewards effectively. You could ask a fairly typical comprehension question like this:

What is the best strategy for encouraging long-term behavior change in your employees?

  1. Threaten punishment for anyone not changing their behavior
  2. Offer a small reward for changing behavior
  3. Offer a large reward for changing behavior

If you introduced this concept earlier, this question probably aligns to that content and to your learning objective. However, it’s very abstract.

Rewritten as a mini-scenario

Compare the question above to this one:

Andrew is a sales manager who has been struggling to motivate his team to better performance. He sent his team to a conference where they learned about sharing stories about previous happy customers to improve sales. A few salespeople really like using this technique, but he wants everyone to start using it more. In the long term, he wants to change their attitudes about the technique.
What should Andrew do to encourage his team?

  1. Threaten to put anyone not using storytelling on a Performance Improvement Plan
  2. Offer verbal recognition in the weekly team meeting for using storytelling
  3. Offer a paid trip to Hawaii for using storytelling

In the second example, a mini-scenario sets up the question. This provides context. Now, it’s a concrete situation with a problem to solve, rather than an abstract comprehension question. This question is about applying the concept in a relevant situation rather than just remembering what you read.

I revised the choices to reflect concrete examples as well. Instead of a “small reward,” it’s “verbal recognition.” That helps it feel more relevant, and reduces the possibility of learners simply remembering a key phrase from the training.

Using a mini-scenario added a total of 4 sentences to the question. This is actually longer than many of my mini-scenarios; one or two sentences are often enough.

Easy and flexible

These are fairly easy to create. It doesn’t take much more time to write than a traditional multiple choice question.

One-question mini-scenarios are also fairly flexible. You could use this assessment question in any tool, even using the built-in quizzing for many LMSs.

Try a little scenario-based learning

I have often found one-question mini-scenarios useful for helping clients try out scenario-based learning without having to commit to something more complex and expensive. This is a way they can “dip their toe in the water” without having to do a completely scenario-based course.

It’s easy to combine mini-scenarios with other instructional approaches. Even in a fairly traditional linear e-learning course, you can use mini-scenarios instead of typical knowledge checks. That will make your assessments more engaging and effective.

Additional examples

Check out some additional examples of one-question mini-scenarios in my post on Converting Traditional Multiple Choice Questions to Scenario-Based Questions.

Originally published 12/5/2015. Last updated 11/21/2019.

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