A practical guide to creating learning scenarios: part 3

Practical guidesIn part 1 of this series, we looked at what a learning scenario is, its basic structure, capabilities and applications. In part 2 we saw how scenarios could be used to help learners to undertake principle-based tasks. In this third part we look in more detail at the steps involved in creating simple scenarios to help learners to practise rule-based tasks. Although scenarios are usually thought of as tools to support more complex problem-solving and decision-making, as we shall see, they can as easily be used as a technique for practising more routine, everyday tasks.

Rule-based tasks don't require you to make judgements, just to follow instructions

When we talk about ‘rule-based tasks’ we mean those activities that can be carried out repeatedly according to clearly laid-out instructions. The job holder is not required to make a judgement, just to follow the rules – if this … do that. In the developed world, it would be fair to say that less and less tasks are of this nature, because routine tasks that obey strict rules can often be undertaken by robots or computers, transferred off-shore where the labour is cheaper or just looked up from some reference source as and when needed. Having said that, everybody’s job involves some rule-based elements, and some tasks simply can’t be carried out by a machine or at a distance.

Step 1: Teach the rules

Principle-based scenarios are typically used as an element in a process of guided discovery. The  scenario brings out issues which can then be reflected upon and discussed, hopefully resulting in learner insights. A task-based scenario is much more likely to be used within an instructional strategy – you teach the rules, then have the learner practise applying them in realistic situations.

So, before building the scenario, be clear about what the steps are in the procedure you want to teach and the rules that need to be applied at each step. Then create some content to get all this across:

  • provide an overview of the task and why it is important
  • demonstrate each step, explaining the rules that need to be applied and why these are necessary

Don’t over-teach. The idea is to provide the minimum information necessary for learners to be able to have a go themselves. The detail can be filled in later, either as feedback within the practise scenarios or as further reading.

Step 2: Develop a storyline

You can then set about designing your scenarios. The idea is to provide the learner with the most realistic experience of the task that you can. For more difficult tasks, start with a simple initial practice that will allow the learner to build their confidence by applying the most basic rules. Then move on to provide more difficult scenarios that require the learner to apply more complex rules. Aim to provide enough opportunities for practice that any learner will be able to gain confidence in applying the rules to real tasks.

You will not always be able  to provide completely  authentic practice opportunities. Sometimes your scenarios will be just a first step to be followed up by more realistic practice away from the computer.

Step 3: Develop your script

As with principle-based scenarios, use whatever media are necessary to convey the storyline. Text and images will often suffice, but if you need a more realistic experience, you have the option of richer media – perhaps even 3D graphics.

As ever, your hardest job will be to develop suitable questions. Where possible, these should match the real-life experience, so if the real task requires someone to type a code into a form field on a computer, then have them do the same thing in your scenario.

If you can, make the interaction match the task. Here the learner is required to complete a form field as they would in a real software application.
If you plan to use multiple-choice questions, then make sure that all the options are plausible

Ideally every option should have its own feedback. This allows you to correct any misundertandings that might have led to an incorrect answer and to add little details that you might have held back from your initial demonstration.

The feedback you provide can be used to correct any misunderstandings and to add extra detail

Step 4: Test and revise

As early as you can, have some sample learners try out your scenarios. Find out from them whether the scenarios are sufficiently realistic, whether they understand clearly what they have to do, whether the questions are set at the right level of difficulty, and whether the feedback is helpful. Be prepared to make lots of refinements until you get it right.

Coming in part 4: creating more complex branching scenarios

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

Download Our Free eBooks

Onlignment ebook link image


  1. says

    Nice! Sharing one of our articles on Scenario-based learning – we’ve covered some interesting points here. http://elearning.kern-comm.com/2009/10/643/

    Over time, I’ve realized the best source of scenarios are from the learner observation notes that we capture during our contextual inquiry sessions. Often the problem scenarios recorded in these notes lend themselves beautifully to learning scenarios during course design.

Leave a Reply