Scenarios are a great way to make your e-learning content more relevant and meaningful for learners. They set a context and a setting for the training, and show learners how they can apply the knowledge and skills in real life. Scenarios also force learners to make real-life decisions that indicate whether they’re truly grasping what you’re teaching.

In the past, I’ve shared some tips on how to build scenarios in Storyline (Building 3 Step Scenarios in Storyline), but I’d also like to share with you some of the instructional design considerations and thought processes that go into creating these.

Let’s say you’re a training designer at a company called Pharma Inc. The Product Development VP just gave you a bunch of PowerPoints about a new product, and you need to train the company’s sales reps on it. You might wonder, “How can I turn these specs and text-heavy info into an engaging scenario?” Well, let me give you some tips on how to do just that.

1. Identify Real-Life Opportunities to Apply the Knowledge

The key to creating scenarios for e-learning is to identify real-life situations where the learner will need to know or apply the information they are learning in the training. At the end of the day (unless it’s strictly compliance training), most courses are designed to help employees improve job performance and gain specific skills. So, what is the skill the learners will need to employ when they are using this information?

For the Pharma Inc. example above, you can ask yourself, “When would the sales reps need to know or apply this information about the new product?” One likely, and obvious, scenario would be when they’re trying to sell that new product to a potential customer. That’s when they would need to know how the product works, its benefits, and key selling features. So that could be your scenario: sales reps selling the new product.

2. Think of a Choice or Decision and Potential Actions

Now that you’ve identified a common real-life situation that the learners would face in the workplace, you need to think of a realistic problem or decision that they would encounter that would make the learner use the information you’ve provided.

Here’s an example: If the scenario is a sales rep making a potential sale, what realistic conversation or situation would make the sales rep talk about the new product? Likely it would happen if a customer asked about the new product. In this case, we could present the learner with some information from the client, from which they have the choice of several potential and realistic answers.

3. Incorporate Realistic Details and Elements

You might consider what details or information would give your scenario more context or make it easier for your learner to make a decision. You should try to include all the parameters and details that would apply in real life to your scenario.

Looking again at the Pharma Inc. example, let’s say your sales reps have to sell to a variety of customers. Some are medical professionals, such as doctors and surgeons; others are regular, everyday people with no medical background or experience. Knowing whether the customer is a doctor will change the type of information the sales rep presents. So a realistic scenario needs to include details that are appropriate to that specific audience. In my experience, it’s often a good idea to consult with subject matter experts (SMEs) when you need this level of realistic detail.

4. Provide Feedback That Illustrates Consequences

No scenario is complete without showing the consequences of the learner’s choices. Since scenarios illustrate a real-life problem or choice, the consequences should show the various outcomes of those actions. That is a lot more meaningful than just barking RIGHT! or WRONG! on a feedback layer.

In the Pharma Inc. example, your scenario could have several potential outcomes. Ask your learner to imagine providing the customer with the info they need, landing the sale, and getting promoted. Then ask your learner to imagine failing to give relevant information or selling points, and subsequently losing the sale and maybe their job, too. This kind of feedback feels real to the learner and will stick long after the course is over.

Remember, like almost everything in life, practice is the most important thing. You will probably struggle with your first few scenarios, since you’re not used to thinking of content in this way. But you’ll see that, over time, scenarios will start to come more quickly and naturally. It won’t be long before you start imagining scenarios right when someone hands you source content!

Do you have any instructional design tips or experiences of your own building scenarios for e-learning or training? If you do, we’d love to hear your own tips and tricks in the comments section!

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Jeff Kortenbosch