Several people have asked me, “How do you come up with scenarios for boring training topics? I have to do this content that’s really dry and tedious.” That’s a concern with a lot of the training we create. Compliance training can have very detailed rules, regulatory training can be filled with dense language, and technical training can be overwhelmed with complex systems.
So what’s the trick? If you’re having trouble identifying a scenario for training, stop focusing so much on the content. Shift your focus to the people who have to do something related to that content. Every rule, regulation, system, and process has to be implemented by actual human beings. If you focus on the people and the decisions or actions they need to make, scenarios will be easier to write. Ultimately, this can help us create training that improves learner engagement and outcomes.
Worst case scenario
One strategy you can use for many types of training is the worst case scenario. Tell the story of what happens to someone who doesn’t follow the rules, showing the catastrophic consequences. Sometimes I use this at the beginning of training to “hook” learners’ attention. Then, you can back up and show how to prevent that problem.
For example, the ORI interactive video training The Lab begins with the words, “It was a bad day. It started with just one reporter…” This ethics training starts with news reports discussing research misconduct. In the training, you can pick a role in an “alternate reality” to attempt to prevent that misconduct from happening.
In that example, the focus of the problem isn’t on the research integrity, but on how that affected the people involved. One person lost his job; others had to deal with the effects of lost reputation. You watch the uncomfortable interviews about the fallout from these poor decisions. The training starts with that focus on people. Later, it asks more specific questions about research integrity, but only after learners have a reason to care about the training.
Compliance training: the boring way
Compliance training can be the bane of an instructional designer’s existence. But let’s face it–if it’s boring for us to create, it’s probably boring for the learners too, right? We have to find the people involved and tell their stories.
For example, say you need to create training on wage and hour laws. The boring way to create the training would be to cite the regulations. In the US, that’s the FLSA.
The federal overtime provisions are contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unless exempt, employees covered by the Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. There is no limit in the Act on the number of hours employees aged 16 and older may work in any workweek. The Act does not require overtime pay for work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or regular days of rest, unless overtime is worked on such days.
The Act applies on a workweek basis. An employee’s workweek is a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours — seven consecutive 24-hour periods. It need not coincide with the calendar week, but may begin on any day and at any hour of the day. Different workweeks may be established for different employees or groups of employees. Averaging of hours over two or more weeks is not permitted. Normally, overtime pay earned in a particular workweek must be paid on the regular pay day for the pay period in which the wages were earned.Excerpted from the FLSA explanation of overtime pay
Compliance training scenario
In order to make this not-so-boring, you first need to identify the important people. Let’s say the audience is retail managers, so that’s the primary focus. Include the employees in the scenario because that helps provide realistic context.
Next, identify the specific problems. The SME tells you they’ve been having problems with managers not tracking and paying overtime correctly. You can ask the SME and stakeholders more questions to gather information to create the scenario.
Based on the information you gather, you might draft a scenario like this:
Lisa is an assistant manager for Retail Spree, a discount retailer. She manages the weekday evening shifts plus two weekends per month. One of the employees, Manuel, asks, “I’m picking up an extra 6-hour shift on Saturday. I already worked 36 hours this week. Do I track the whole shift as overtime?” How should Lisa respond?
- Just track it as regular hours, and I’ll fix it in your time card later.
- Yes, report the entire shift as overtime since that’s over 40 hours for the week.
- No, report 4 hours as regular time and 2 hours as overtime.
Instead of an abstract question about overtime rules, this asks the learners to apply the rules to a specific scenario.
In that example, you could also include an option for “I’m not sure, let me check with HR.” That option could provide an explanation of the rules. Sometimes, you do need to list the actual policy in compliance training. However, if you can include that policy with a scenario, it gives people a reason to look up the information. Instead of pushing information to learners, you give them a reason to pull the content themselves.
Lots of text
In some training, you can’t get away from large blocks of text. Some job roles require working with text, so practicing important skills means having big blocks of text on the screen. While we should try to rephrase regulations into plain language where possible, what if the job itself requires reading and applying different regulations? In that case, you need to practice that skill.
One of my past projects involved training advisors on how to support international students. Part of their job is understanding regulations so they can explain and advise students. We used a series of case studies to give learners numerous practice opportunities with a wide range of problems.
In this example, the advisor was working with a student facing disciplinary action and possible loss of a visa. In the case study, they needed to determine the conditions of the regulations and potential consequences. Therefore, one of the activities was to review the regulation and identify the important text.
While I can’t share the full version of this with the proprietary content, you can get an idea of how the activity worked even with the text replaced. This is a practice activity for one step in a real-world skill.
Connect regulations to people
The regulations activity above was one piece of a larger scenario.
- A story about the student’s actions and situation
- Two advisors discuss how to help the student
- Review the regulations
- Two advisors discuss how to apply the regulations using a framework taught earlier in the course
- Multiple choice questions about actions to take
- Additional information about the student in the story
- Decide whether to take additional action based on the new information
I didn’t show the regulations in isolation; I connected them to the people affected by them. The regulations on their own would be extremely dry and boring. In the context of the case study, understanding the regulations meant determining if an international student could maintain her visa or not.
Do you have tips or suggestions for creating scenarios for boring training topics? Add a comment or reply to this email and tell me how you have managed this in your own projects.