Have you ever wondered, “Isn’t there a better way to approach this eLearning course? Are people really getting enough out of what we’re teaching?”

If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you might want to consider using scenarios.

Sometimes this can be intimidating to some people. Almost everyone realizes that a standard content dump is not effective, but breaking away from the informational presentation and creating something more captivating can be challenging.

We consistently find that using scenarios helps frame the information for learners and provides them an opportunity to “participate” in the learning process by cognitively engaging with the material.

Now, we’ve all heard that people learn by doing, but most people interpret that as “make things for people to click on” when it comes to eLearning design.

The doing is more about the mind than the mouse. If you can compel people to engage mentally, even if they don’t have to do a bunch of physical tasks, you can still properly motivate the learner. Scenarios is a great way to do this, so let’s look at a few ways to make sure those scenarios are successful.

1. Make sure your scenario is realistic and relevant to the eLearning student

The true value in an eLearning scenario is that you can put learners into a realistic situation that they can react to. So, you’ll want to make sure your eLearning scenario deals with some type of real life problem or situation that they are likely to experience.

This will help them gather knowledge or develop the necessary skills they need in the real world. Typically, this means tasks or situations they will experience back on the job, so your learners will be much more engaged if they are able to easily see how this scenario will help them in their roles.

We know that participation and engagement are predicated on WIIFM (what’s in it for me), so making it clear to learners how their jobs will be easier or their skills will be better is paramount.

2. Incorporate SMEs into your design process to ensure authenticity

Realism is vital to first-rate scenarios. Not only do you need to make sure you’re teaching the correct information, but it needs to be presented in a way that is realistic.

If learners going through your scenario start to think, “Ugh, that would never really happen,” then you’ve lost them.

While scenarios don’t have to be overly sophisticated, they should feel like you’ve dropped the learner in the middle of something they could experience in real life. Often times this means you need to bring in a SME (Subject Matter Expert) that understands the lingo and the process in detail.

Enlisting SMEs to help craft the scenario will add credibility and can ensure your situation feels right to the learners.

Be careful here though: Often SMEs feel like every minute detail is critical. You need to be able to sift through what they tell you and determine what is critical to your eLearning path while not over complicating things with too many unnecessary details.

3. Create detailed storyboards to document structure and gain alignment with stakeholders

The most common way to convey the content and course flow to stakeholders is with a storyboard. This should be a crucial step in virtually any eLearning project, but serves even more purpose here.

The storyboard not only shows what information will be presented, but in more involved, branching scenarios, it provides the map of all the various pathways. Interactive scenarios rely on choices and consequences, so mapping those out in a clear fashion is important for validating the flow.

Some scenarios can have multiple ways of progressing through the story, so everyone involved needs to be able to understand and agree to the flow. Most eLearning storyboards are developed in either Word or PowerPoint, but once branching is introduced, you may be well served to look into an alternate tool.

4. Provide feedback in natural ways that mimic real life consequences

Remember how we said realism is important in learning scenarios?  When is the last time you answered a questions in the real world and someone jumped out with a big sign that said “Incorrect. You should have said blah, blah, blah?”

If this has happened to you, that’s really weird, and you might want to look into a restraining order.

If we are building a scenario meant to feel real, why would we give feedback in this manner? Think of how we get most feedback from people in real life. Most commonly from their reactions. We are expected to interpret the subtlety of people’s reactions and respond accordingly. So why not build our scenarios this way?

Try to mimic the reactions and consequences that people would normally experience. Those are typically not totally cut and dry. Once the scenario is compete, you can provide the learner with a debrief that explains some of the rationale for their experience. But while they’re in the scenario itself, keep things real.

5. Make sure scenarios are challenging and allow learners to fail

As much as society these days tries to shelter people from this reality, we can’t all be winners. In an eLearning context, that is a good thing.

Throughout our lives, we learn far more from our failures than we do from our successes. While this doesn’t mean we want to create unfairly difficult courses where people are destined to fail, but we need to make the challenge appropriate. If things are too easy, people will lose interest. If they are too hard, people will get frustrated and quit.

Somewhere in the middle provides the balance to keep people engaged. Our scenarios should be designed with the ambiguity of real life, where typically there are not clear cut totally right and totally wrong answers. Life is about navigating the gray area, and the best scenarios mimic this.


Scenario-based training can take many forms: from a paragraph-length situation with a “what would you do” question, to a fully branching simulation like our Storyline guru winning Sales Orientation course.

Both can be valuable learning experience, and while they are on opposite ends of the design spectrum, they both need to be realistic and relevant to the learners. Hopefully these tips make it easier for you to incorporate scenarios into your next eLearning project.

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