When it comes to online learning experiences, branching can be a great way to help learners practice, keep things interesting and relevant, and improve retention. Get ideas for how you could better engage your audience with these five branching examples.
Branching simply means designing different routes through the content, depending on input from the user. This could be as simple as a role selector that delivers only the material relevant to that role – useful if you have diverse user groups or want to offer point-of-need quick reference. Or it could be as complex as a multi-path scenario-based approach – more design effort but effective for behavioral topics or encouraging reflection and discussion.
Here are five examples of different ways to use branching in elearning.
1. Simple branching for personalized action plans
Say “branching” and people often auto-fill to “branching scenarios”. But branching is just the process of taking learner input and using rules to show them a specific set of content accordingly. In this Delegation Skills example, the learner does some self-reflection, which then allows the course to deliver the right one of a set of action plans, tailored to their style, strengths and needs.
Why it works:
- It’s a simple way to deliver a relevant, efficient and practical learning experience
- The personalized techniques can be tried out immediately in the following scenario
- Social polling is incorporated to illustrate a variety of approaches taken by other leaders
2. ‘Choose your own adventure’ style branching
At the other end of the scale are ‘choose your own adventure’ approaches. These are perhaps the height of branching scenarios in elearning. They have multiple decision points, each choice leading down a different path to one of several possible conclusions. This Open University example adds immersive video storytelling to the mix and illustrates how effective this approach can be for emotional, nuanced subjects.
Why it works:
- The branching means the user learns by doing; they make a choice and immediately see and feel the impact on the characters they are in control of or responsible for
- Where mental health and other similar topics are concerned, there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ answer, and branching allows the user to safely play out different approaches
- Each scenario is fully immersive, with not incremental feedback interrupting the story
- High production value video combined with expertly-crafted dialogue and story immerses the user in an emotionally-charged experience
- The user’s route through delivers a profile of their style at the end, with a summary of different styles and outcomes – a useful takeaway for discussion and reference
- Social polling shows how other people responded at certain points, enhancing the use of branching by further demonstrating that there isn’t one ‘right’ interpretation or answer
3. Branching for role-specific content
Another great use for branching in elearning is to make detailed, comprehensive content more accessible and relevant to an individual user. When it comes to policy, process or procedure information, you may want to create one course but have different audience groups needing different subsets of the content. This example on Shared Parental Leave demonstrates how branching can help with this.
Why it works:
- It keeps the audience segregation simple: HR or not-HR, rather than a long list of individual job roles
- A dynamic menu makes the branching feel seamless; in this case, there is no need for the user to be aware of the alternative routes through the content
- The whole demo is focused on the real-life application of the content, both in terms of the level of detail needed and in the decisions and tasks replicated in the simple, practical quiz
4. Branching in conjunction with game elements
Branching is just one elearning design technique, which can be layered with other approaches to great effect – like in this sales training demo. Here we’ve added game elements to a branching scenario to increase engagement and tap into the competitive atmosphere of sales.
Why it works:
- The choice to review learning content or dive right into the call simulations is part of the scenario itself
- Each time the user selects a response to the potential client, they are branched down the appropriate route, so the simulated conversation always feels natural and real
- It uses audio to great effect, keeping it realistic and cost-effective (there’s no need to splash out on video when the real-life activity it’s simulating is phone-based!)
- Immediate feedback is given for each decision, building competence and confidence (contrast this to the feedback approach in A Support Net, on a very different topic)
- Features like points and timers gamify the scenario and appeal to the target audience
5. Complex branching and visual storytelling
This example of a branching scenario was developed several years ago by Cathy Moore for the US Army, but it really stands the test of time. Like A Support Net, it combines branching and storytelling to tackle a behavioral topic (cross-cultural communication). In contrast to that example, though, this was developed without video or animation: striking visuals, occasional but impactful audio, and skillful scenario development make this an enduringly good example of branching.
Why it works:
- The branching is complex (there are 12 paths through) but crossing points where paths converge keep it manageable
- It’s a big scenario, but the basic premise (ethnocentric choices lead to less successful paths) keeps it focused
- Careful scripting ensures that one bad decision doesn’t necessarily mean the user ‘fails’ – just as in real life, they can get themselves back onto a positive path
- The user is in control of the story, but there are a couple of curveballs thrown in to echo real life and provide an additional challenge to the user
- This course works as a standalone piece, but was designed as pre-work for face-to-face sessions; the branching makes it a brilliant starting point for valuable discussion
There you have it: five ways you can use branching in your learning design. If you need to offer adaptive or personalized content, branching can help your users get to what they need quickly. And branching scenarios can be a good design choice if you want people to experience the impact of different approaches, play out new techniques and skills, or explore various facets of a subject that isn’t black and white. The best news? All of these can be done with Elucidat!
If these branching examples have inspired you, ask us for a free trial of Elucidat and see what you can do.