In the fast-growing world of eLearning, it’s not just the technology that’s evolving, it’s also the learners that are taking these eLearning courses. It is soon becoming challenging to keep the learners engaged and responsive. While making courses interactive solves a part of this issue, it does not always probe the learner to think and ponder. Many have found the answer to this issue and are now moving towards training through ‘scenarios’.
M. David Merrill, a Professor in the Department of Instructional Technology at Utah State University, states that Learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems. This is his first of five principles that he identified as required guidance on creating training that are problem-centered. A lot of training concentrates primarily on the demonstration phase, but misses the mark on activating a need for the training in the learner. And that’s where scenarios come in.
So, what does a scenario really do for the learner? Let’s go back to our childhood for a bit. While growing up, our parents always told us the difference between right and wrong, but it never had the impact it was meant to have. Though, when we were taught the same thing through bed time stories that were followed by a moral of how we should support truth and justice, or empower the weak, somehow, that stuck! It would make us want to be those heroes.
A scenario works just like a story. Instead of teaching through instructions, a scenario helps the learner visualize a given situation that involves characters playing certain roles, and the learner gets to make certain decisions based on the situation, leading to positive or negative consequences. This nudges them to not only think, but react to the course they are taking, and get more involved. Getting involved in the scenario helps the learner relate with the content of the course, based on which the scenario is created. This ultimately helps alter learner behavior and improve performance, there by achieving the final aim of the training.
Scenarios, though easy to relate to and learn from, are just as tough to conjure up. Writing a scenario requires both—a good imagination and facts about the subject. It is very important to understand the content that is being covered. Else, a good imagination will be of no help. This requires you to have a good grasp on the content, along with good communication with the SME (Subject Matter Expert). You need to ask them the right questions. This helps you collect all the raw material you will require to create a convincing tale and achieve its educational objective. Having the natural ability to tell stories and tell them well is always an advantage.
Let’s assume that we are writing a script for a course covering ‘professional etiquettes and interactions at the workplace’. We need to come up with a scenario that involves a problematic situation with an irresponsible colleague and how it should be handled. Let us see what points we need to keep in mind while we write such a scenario.
- What is the objective of the scenario?
- Will the scenario come in the beginning of the course or later in the course? Knowing whether learners have covered the topic or they are getting introduced to it through the scenario will help in writing it with the correct objective.
- Where will the events take place? How will you set the scene up?
- Who are the characters, including the problem creator, the victim and the one giving the solution (maybe the boss or a colleague), etc.? Will one character play one or multiple roles?
- Will the scenario end with a negative note leaving the learner to ponder over the right course of action, or will it have a positive end with the solution in it?
- Will the scenario have questions or not? If yes, will they come after the scenario finishes, or will they come in between the scenario?
- Will the scenario branch into another scenario depending on the learner’s feedback?
- Which voice would best suit it—first person versus third person?
Keep it Simple
Many may think using great vocabulary or using flamboyant language would make a scenario sound good and flow well. On the contrary, it is best to keep it simple and as close to life as possible. Using spoken language and a realistic relationship between characters helps the learner bond with them and feel as though they are a part of the scenario. Though the situation is fictional, how a character with certain characteristics should react in it is something we need to be sure of. It is important that a scenario should have follow-up question(s) since it re-establishes what the learners have picked up in the course and through the scenario.
Single and Continuing Scenarios
Once all the necessary information is at hand, and the objective for writing the scenario is clear, we can move on. Most often, a scenario will come after certain information has been covered. This is to test how involved the learner is, and to put what they’ve learned to test. If there are multiple scenarios in the course, there is a chance that all scenarios are different, containing different characters, and situations.
They may also be in continuation, covering different content, but with consistent characters that you need to build on. In a continuing scenario, the learner starts to relate with the characters better through multiple scenarios and grows with them through each scenario and question. But, this may not always be possible since the content being covered may not necessarily be suitable for the characters introduced in the previous scenario. In this case, each time a new scenario is presented. The learners get a variety of situations to visualize and the scenarios can be tailor made for the content it is meant to reiterate.
Going Beyond the SME
There may be times when your SME may not be able to provide all the answers to the questions that come up while writing scenarios. Or they may be unavailable. In such cases, it is important to be able to search the Internet for answers to fill in the gaps, if the content allows it. This is possible when this information is not client or company specific.
For example, if certain rules and regulations are being covered which apply in a country, one can refer to the Internet to read up on violations if that is what the scenario calls for. This information should be sourced from dependable sources and should not alter the content in any way. Whatever may be the case, the scenario requires a validation by your SME.
Once you are done writing the scenario, it is important to review it to look for loopholes or gaps that you might have missed in your train of thought. Reach out to your SME with any last questions before they review it. You must make sure that the content comes across correctly and the scenario is convincing and realistic, thus achieving the required objective. Scenarios have great retention value, and hence help in better performance in assessments.
Every writer has a signature style of writing and narrating. However, it is important to be flexible in order to write with the target audience in mind—their age, backgrounds, and the subject. We should not under or over-estimate their sensibility, and should try and attain their perspective to be able to write better.
There are many books available that can help improve not just communication and writing skills, but also skills to understand people who read what you write. Enhancing such skills will help you write accurate scenarios and positively affect learner performance by keeping them engaged and responsive, contributing towards the success of the course!