Scenario development has a lot of overlap with movie scriptwriting. You don’t need to have extraordinary literary skills, but rather some insight into the work being done at the learner’s organization. Reality can be very compelling, so the materials for the scenario can be drawn directly from the workplace. Once the participants are engaged in the story, they will fill in any gaps that exist and even some that were not anticipated.
Many of the elements of a good scenario are similar to the elements of a good story. They include:
Learning objectives. One must have an objective in mind that provides the basis and goal of the scenario or scenarios.
Settings. The objective provides you with some quick insight into the setting you ought to create. Should the scenario take place in an office? Hallway? Customer site? Shop floor? The idea is to consider the nature of the experience that the student needs to have and to design the scenario accordingly. Also, what additional elements need to be included to make the setting realistic? What tools or equipment might the participants deal with in this scenario?
Characters. Given the learning objective, the protagonist of the scenario should be fairly clear. If the scenario is about customer service, then a customer service representative might be the protagonist; if it is about supervisory training or leadership, then a supervisor might be the protagonist. Also, does the scenario call for interactivity?
Who are the additional characters? Depending on the scope of the scenario, you may want to consider who else might be affected by the decision being made in the scenario. This helps illustrate the ripple effect that decisions can have, and helps participants learn about other areas of the business (and beyond) that are affected by their decisions. See the sidebar Developing Characters in Infoline “Scenario-Based E-Learning” for more insight.
Plot. Now we get to the story itself—the reason for the scenario. Initially, the plot unfolds in a linear fashion, so that participants understand the scenario before they begin interacting with it. The learning objectives may call for an anchor story, which can have recurring story elements. See the sidebar Creating an Anchor Story Design in Infoline “Scenario-Based E-Learning” for more information.
Scorecard. As a designer, you should be able to answer the question of how success will be measured in this scenario. Ask yourself, “How can I, as an observer, tell if the student got it right or wrong?”
Correct demonstration of learned skills and behaviors should of course align with the learning objectives and the stakeholders’ goals. The elements in a scorecard should also represent the tradeoffs that a student would consider when determining the correct path to follow.
Decision alternatives. Once the plot is developed, go back to identify appropriate decision points. Then develop an appropriate set of choices that prompt the student to critically assess the situation. Writing good choices is an art form. You do not want to present choices that are obviously correct or incorrect (and would not occur in a real-life situation).
Review the scorecard for the program. Is there an obvious tradeoff between two or more items (such as team versus boss, customer versus company, or patient health versus time)? This kind of complexity makes for a richer and more memorable experience.
Branching. If the narrative is going to encompass more than one scenario, then branching will occur, so that participants can experience the consequences of each decision option. At this stage, however, it is important to recognize that not every choice needs a branch. Sometimes the power of the story allows the designer to create the illusion of complexity. See the sidebar Focusing Your Design in Infoline “Scenario-Based E-Learning” for more information on branching.
Article is excerpted from Infoline “Scenario-Based E-Learning” (ASTD, October 2012).