Should you use time as scenario feedback? Let’s consider an example.
Nicole is creating a branching scenario for learners to practice communication techniques for nutrition counselors to better understand their clients’ goals. She has written a simulated conversation between a counselor and a client. Her SME, Brian, provided this feedback after reviewing the prototype.
The conversation overall does a good job giving plausible choices for questions and showing realistic responses from the client. But I want this to be really exciting for learners, like a game! Let’s add a timer for each decision. That way, they’ll be motivated to answer quickly and keep pushing through the scenario.
What do you think? How should Nicole respond to Brian?
A. That’s a great idea! I think that will enhance the learner experience.
B. I’m not sure. Let me do some research.
C. Timing might not be the best form of feedback for this particular course.
Remember your answer; we’ll come back to this question at the end of the post.
When Time is Effective
Time can be a very effective consequence in some learning situations. Check out the Lifesaver training on what to do in emergency situations for an example with effective use of time as feedback.
In the first scenario with Jake, you help someone in cardiac arrest. Each question has a 5 second timer, and you are scored for both accuracy and speed.
Later in the scenario, you simulate performing CPR by pressing two keys on your keyboard in the same rhythm as CPR. While you practice, you see a scale from good to bad showing how close you are to the ideal timing. This lets you adjust your rhythm.
After you finish the 30 seconds of simulated CPR, you see a percentage score for your accuracy.
This feedback works in the Lifesaver training because timing really is a critical part of the skill being taught. Speed of response matters in these emergency situations, as does knowing the right rhythm for CPR.
Time as feedback could work for other skills too, like manufacturing, making sandwiches in a chain restaurant, or safety training.
When Time is Counterproductive
If the skill you’re practicing and assessing requires critical thinking and careful consideration, measuring time can be counterproductive. For simulated conversations where you want learners to pause and think about their options, it’s better to not use a timer.
You might be thinking, “But in a real conversation, people need to think quickly. Doesn’t that mean we should use timers?” That’s a question about fluency, which requires more practice over time. If your goal is to get people to that point of fluency, you might add a timer, but not for the initial practice. Teach the skill without a timer first, then provide additional practice opportunities to build fluency and speed in the skill.
Do Timers Improve Motivation?
Does a timer increase motivation for getting the right answer? Maybe, if the learners are already motivated prior to starting and time makes sense in the context of the activity. Many games use time as a way to keep players engaged and excited.
I suspect in practice that unnecessary timers encourage people to guess randomly for whatever they can click fastest. Time may actually decrease learners’ motivation to be truly cognitively engaged with the learning experience. They may be more motivated just to click and get through it quickly than to read carefully and understand their decisions.
Timers can create challenges for accessibility. Learners who use a screen reader and keyboard navigation will generally need more time to answer. Learners with mobility impairment may have trouble manipulating a mouse or keyboard quickly. Depending on your audience, adding timers may prevent some learners from being successful in your elearning courses, even if they could do the real task (like having a conversation) without problem.
Revisiting the Communication Scenario Example
Think back to Nicole’s scenario at the beginning of this post. She’s teaching communication skills to nutrition counselors, using a simulated conversation. Her SME, Brian, suggested adding a timer.
What do you think? Does a timer seem helpful in this situation?
Probably not. In this training, it’s more important for learners to think carefully about their choices and responses than to be speedy. Feedback like the expression of the client or a scale showing the client’s motivation to change their eating behavior would be more beneficial than feedback on how quick they are.
Time can work as feedback in learning scenarios, but it should be used sparingly, and only when it’s actually relevant to the skill being practiced or assessed.
Do you have any examples of time used successfully as feedback in a scenario? I’d love to see some more samples. Share them in the comments (or reply to the email if you’re a subscriber).
Originally published 2/13/2018. Updated 9/8/2022.