How to drive performance improvement through scenario-based elearning

Descriptive paintings in caves from prehistoric times. Lyric poetry passed down orally through generations. Novels, theatre, TV soap operas…and elearning scenarios. It’s human nature to share wisdom, knowledge, information and life lessons through storytelling. So why wouldn’t you tap into that when it comes to designing elearning courses that needs to change behaviour, improve performance and transfer knowledge? Scenario-based elearning can help with all three.

scenario based elearning scene

What is scenario-based elearning?

Scenarios are really just stories. When it comes to learning and development, they’re stories used to bring the content to life. To put it into context and to illustrate what the theory means in practice. They both challenge the learner to learn by doing – often through mistakes – and make it easier for them to translate what they’re learning into the real world.

Sometimes scenarios are very short: perhaps just a paragraph describing a real-life situation related to the point being made or taught followed by a reflective question. Sometimes they’re more complex: a longer-form narrative thread running through an entire course with decisions and challenges along the way. And sometimes they’re interactive with branching paths and multiple outcomes. 

When and why should you use scenarios in your elearning?

In a nutshell, incorporating storytelling into your elearning content makes it more engaging, emotionally impactful and memorable. Crucially, it also makes it more effective: real, relevant and practical scenarios mean the knowledge and skills learnt are more likely to be transferred to the workplace.

Here are some examples of situations in which scenarios could really add value to the learning experience, and the potential benefits:

  1. When learner motivation is low. When learners simply don’t care, a well-designed scenario plays on their natural curiosity and that human tendency to want to know what happens next and where the story goes. A good scenario also encourages intrinsic motivation by striking a balance between challenging learners (to use existing skills and knowledge) without overwhelming them: success (and new skills or knowledge) has to feel within reach. 
  2. When the core content is dry or complex: legal topics, compliance and so on. It can be hard for learners to envisage how this content relates to their everyday life. Opening with a story illustrating the relevance and why it matters is so much more effective than just stating the facts. It means the core content, when it comes, is more likely to stick, and it provides a memorable hook for that core content. This helps with the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. 
  3. When you’re tackling a risky or sensitive topic – like mental health, diversity and difficult conversations. When the stakes are high in real life, safe exploration before the fact is key. Learners can have as many attempts as they need, making mistakes and playing through the consequences, without any real-life risks. These topics often lend themselves well to branching scenarios with multiple paths so learners can try out a number of approaches in a safe environment.
  4. When there isn’t a single right answer. Scenarios, again particularly branching scenarios, can be a great choice when you want to encourage reflection and discovery, test learners’ assumptions and encourage them to consider different perspectives. This is often the case with soft skills like leadership or negotiation. Social polling can add a useful extra dimension here too, showing learners how other people responded in the same situation and prompting further thought and reflection.
  5. When you need to test learners’ ability to apply the learning in context. Sales skills, product knowledge and customer service skills are good examples of this. A traditional multiple choice quiz tests recall of facts but does nothing to indicate what learners can do with those facts. Adding a scenario into the mix turns a quiz into a more challenging situation, giving you confidence that – if they perform well here – they’ll perform well where it counts. It also makes it easier for learners to transfer the concepts to their real-life context.

Examples of scenario-based elearning

Now’s a good time to take a look at some of those situations in action. We’ve compiled some of the best examples of scenario-based elearning approached in different ways. 

5 scenario examples

8 best practice tips for developing elearning scenarios

Ready to design and develop your own scenario-based elearning? Here are our top tips for creating scenarios that engage, motivate, change mindsets and improve performance.

  1. Don’t even start to design a scenario unless you can justify why you’re doing so. They’re time-intensive to do well, so don’t throw in a scenario just because it sounds engaging.
  2. Familiarise yourself with the key components of storytelling. You need to set context, design relatable characters, and present a problem to be overcome. Aim for some drama or tension but keep it all within the realms of reality and plausibility.
  3. Talk to subject matter experts and learners to make sure you really understand both the key messages and the day-to-day reality of learners. Ask them to tell you stories about where mistakes happen and why, the pain points and common problems, the consequences of different approaches…you need success stories and war stories that you can build meaningful, realistic scenarios around. (Read our tips for getting the best from your subject matter experts here.)
  4. Test then tell, don’t tell then test. Put the scenario first and follow it with the theory and core content. It’ll land with more impact and be more likely to stick.
  5. Decide whether the learner should observe and react to a scenario, guiding a character, or whether a first person scenario is more effective. If the former, take time to craft a character that is relatable and familiar to facilitate learning transfer.
  6. If you’re going for an immersive, longer-form interactive scenario, think about whether to give feedback at each decision point (useful if you want to give them the chance to correct their path) or offer comprehensive feedback at the end (good if you want to maintain momentum and heighten the realism).
  7. Don’t scrimp on scripting if you’re designing a scenario that includes dialogue. Clunky conversation that isn’t authentic or engaging can undermine the best scenario, so sometimes money is better spent on a scriptwriter than on other aspects of development.
  8. Don’t fall into the trap of equating scenarios with expensive bells and whistles. Sometimes videos with high production values and great actors are worth the investment, but in other situations a lower-tech scenario can still have a big impact. Consider engaging visual approaches or creative use of audio if budget allows.

In summary…

Designing scenarios can be a brilliant way to bring your content to life, improve learner engagement, facilitate transfer of knowledge to the real world and encourage learners to learn by doing. There’s no one ‘right’ approach to scenario-based elearning. Rather, it’s about finding the storytelling approach, the level of interactivity and the multimedia combination that works for your topic and your audience. 

We can help!

Download our guide to elearning best practices for more about how to incorporate scenarios into your instructional design.

To explore how Elucidat’s features can help you build brilliantly engaging scenarios, book a personalized demo of Elucidat today.

Book a demo of Elucidat

Stephanie Karaolis

Stephanie is a freelance learning designer and copywriter, drawing on a decade of experience in the industry, including roles at Saffron Interactive and in BP’s Online & Informal Learning team. She shares her learning ideas regularly on her personal blog.
Stephanie Karaolis

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