When Should You Avoid Branching Scenarios?

Branching scenarios are great. However, no solution is the right approach 100% of the time. Sometimes, another strategy makes more sense.

Branching scenarios are great. They’re engaging, and they give learners opportunities to practice realistic decision making. However, no solution is the right approach 100% of the time. Sometimes, another strategy makes more sense.

When Should You Avoid Branching Scenarios?

Not a Series of Decisions

Branching scenarios are perfect when you want to show a series of decisions, where the consequences of each decision determine what choices are available next. Conversations are perfect examples. There’s a lot of back and forth. What you say changes how the other person responds, and what they say changes how you’ll answer.

Do you always need to show a whole conversation from start to finish though? Sometimes you’re really focused on the initial reply, not the entire discussion. Your initial reply to a customer complaint or objection sets the tone and frames the whole conversation. Therefore, you might want to focus on just that initial reply, not everything after that. That means a branching scenario is overkill. A one-question mini-scenario is probably better.

A Series of Related, but Independent, Situations

In fact, you might want to show a series of customer complaints. Multiple one-question scenarios could be more effective than a single, long branching scenario. That also lets you show multiple related situations that might differ slightly.

For example, in a retail setting, an employee might have to respond to three customer complaints in a row. How they handle the first customer’s concerns doesn’t affect the interactions with the second and third customers. Each complaint is independent. That means true branching isn’t a good fit.

You might thread together a series of one-question scenarios. Use the same protagonist and setting, but put that protagonist in multiple situations. As each one is resolved (good or bad), return to the main path for the next situation. This is a form of “limited branching” that isn’t truly a branching scenario, but works for these kinds of situations.

Limited Branching (all consequences lead back to the main path for the next situation)

Procedural Skills

Can the skill be outlined with a checklist of steps that are repeated the same way every time? Is the skill routine or repetitive? If the skill is procedural, rather than strategic, realistic practice of that procedure is probably a better approach than a branching scenario.

Most software training falls into this category. Successful performance looks pretty much the same every time: click this, select that, enter data here. Screen capture videos, tutorials, and simulation practice are better options than branching scenarios for this kind of software training.

Looking for More?

Interested in reading more about branching scenarios and other options for scenario-based learning? Check out all of my posts on Storytelling and Scenarios.

If you’re attending the Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando next week (March 26-28, 2019), be sure to attend my session on Choosing Branching Scenarios When They Matter Most. I’ll share multiple examples of training problems and discuss whether branching or another strategy is the best approach.

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