Scenarios are a great way to make your e-learning content more relevant and meaningful for learners. They give context to the training and allow learners to determine whether they’re really grasping the knowledge and skills outlined in the course by giving them an opportunity to apply them in a real-life situation. 

If you’ve never designed an e-learning scenario, you might be feeling intimidated and unsure where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back! In this article, we’ll walk you through some things to consider during the scenario design process.

1. Identify Real-Life Opportunities to Apply Knowledge

Most courses are designed to help employees improve job performance and gain specific skills, so the key to creating an effective scenario is to identify real-life situations where the learner will need to know or apply the information or skill they’re learning. 

Let’s say, for example, 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 decide the best way to do that is to design a scenario-based course. Now what? 

Start by asking yourself when the sales reps need to know or apply this information about the new product. One likely scenario would be when they’re trying to sell said product to a potential customer and need to know how the product works, its benefits, and key selling features. So that could be the basis of your scenario: a sales rep is trying to sell the new product to a client.

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 would require learners to use the training content.

Going back to our Pharma example, what realistic conversation or situation might lead the sales rep to talk about the new product? One idea: maybe an existing or potential client mentions a problem the new product could potentially solve. As such, you could present the learner with a few responses to choose from and ask them which one they think would most likely result in a sale.

3. Use Relatable Characters

Characters are a central piece of your scenario. When developing your characters, it’s important to think about your audience and choose characters that will resonate with them. This applies not only to the profile of the character (what’s their job?), but also to the image you use, if you choose to show them on the screen.

Another way to make your scenario feel more human and personal is by giving your character a name. In our example, let’s say the learner is the sales rep and they’re meeting with a potential client named Amir.

4. Incorporate Important Details 

It’s also a good idea to include any details that would be present in real life to make the scenario feel as relatable as possible by giving your learners all the context they need.

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. Whether or not the customer is a doctor changes the way the sales rep interacts with that customer, so a realistic scenario needs to include that information. For our scenario, we could specify that Amir is a doctor.

5. Provide Feedback That Illustrates Consequences

Instead of simply telling the learner they made the right choice, try showing them the consequences of their choices. This is often more meaningful and effective because it allows them to visualize what would happen in real life.

When it comes to consequences, it’s often more effective to showcase worst-case scenarios: for example, lost earnings, wasted time, or maybe—in some serious situations—injury or death. Because they’re extreme, these tend to resonate more with learners. 

If we go back to our Pharma example, we could imagine a few different potential outcomes. If the learner provides Amir with the info he needs, they land the sale and get promoted. And if they don’t, they lose the sale and the bonus they were counting on to pay off their student loans. This kind of feedback feels real to the learner and is more likely to stick with them long after the course is over.

6. Keep It Realistic

Even if you’re looking for worst-case situations to make your stories dramatic, you never want to sacrifice realism. Avoid exaggeration and include just enough details so your stories seem authentic and appealing without overwhelming learners with extraneous information.

So if we go back to our example, if the learner chooses the wrong option and Amir decides not to buy the new product, we wouldn’t want to say their boss threw their computer out the window and lit their desk on fire. We’d simply state that they didn’t get the bonus they were hoping to get to help pay off their student loans.

7. Lean On Your SMEs

Your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are a valuable asset for crafting effective scenarios. They can give you insight into some common problems that come up in real life. They know your audience, so they can help you decide what types of characters to use in your training. Your SME can also fact-check your scenario and let you know if it’s plausible or too exaggerated. And they can help you strike the right balance when it comes to the level of details in your scenario.

Don’t try to go it alone—lean on your SMEs for help as you design your scenario. Together, you can ensure the scenario is both meaningful and realistic.

The Bottom Line

Like almost everything in life, practice makes perfect. The more scenarios you design, the faster and easier it’ll be. It won’t be long before you start imagining scenarios the minute someone hands you source content!

Want some more pro tips before you dive in? Check out these articles:

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

Jeff Kortenbosch