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Crafting good eLearning scenarios

by Susan Dumas

This blog is about how to gather content for eLearning scenarios. In eLearning, scenarios work well to help people to apply new skills and solve problems. After all, practise makes perfect! eLearning scenarios are a core part of our content development strategy. Take a look at our Compliance solutions for more on how we use eLearning scenarios.

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Summary - eLearning scenario design steps

1. Talk to the people who do the job - especially at different levels of experience.

2. Be aware of the formal way of doing something versus the informal way. The shortcuts of doing something often are the best learning!

3. Help your Subject Matter Experts make their decision making practice more explicit by asking good questions.

4. Have a range of scenarios to suit different types of people in your target audience.

5. Dry run your scenario plan with representatives of the target audience and adjust accordingly.

6. Find out why people are making mistakes - is it a process or environment problem or a training problem?

7. Good eLearning scenario design can help resolve workplace and staff challenges!

Good eLearning scenarios bring your digital content to life and can help with important decision-making skills

eLearning challenges

Why are eLearning scenarios good for workplace learning?

We learn better from trying things out, making mistakes and seeing the consequences of our actions. In real-life, especially in the workplace, we learn a lot on the job as we go about our daily tasks. For many of us, each day in work is a learning scenario in itself. But not all workplaces embrace the idea of failure and encouraging staff to try out new skills. For example, some workplaces are so safety critical that failure just isn’t an option. Industries such as healthcare and the Nuclear/energy sectors need safety first at all times. For these types of situations, being able to simulate decision-making in the form of an eLearning scenario helps to develop skills.

How do you get started designing eLearning scenarios?

You must talk to real people who do the jobs. Observing people making the real decisions is the gold standard – but it is often difficult to get the opportunity to do this. You need to be careful who you chose as the Subject Matter Expert is. Often SMEs are senior ‘expert’ people who are very far removed from day-to-day practice. To help people practice real decisions you must talk to the people who make the everyday decisions. I also like to structure conversations with SMEs into what I call a ‘DIF’ analysis:

  • Difficult – what if anything, do you find difficult about this decision?
  • Important – what is most important about getting this decision right/wrong?
  • Frequent – what frequently comes up, e.g. common myths/misunderstandings, good practice?

Often competent practitioners won’t be aware of how they make good decisions. They are unconsciously competent. It is the job of the Instructional Designer to turn this tacit knowledge into explicit learning. Once that learning has been made explicit, you can more easily share it with others. There is also a difference between formal and informal practice. There may be formal rules in place about how someone does their job – but many competent practitioners create shortcuts as they gain experience. Being able to identify these ‘tips and tricks’ is very useful learning in itself. I would also advise talking to people at various levels of experience. For example, talking to a novice in the area will help you see the challenges first hand, rather than relying on the recall of someone more senior who may gloss over these challenges.

Get a demo of our Content development services to see how we use scenarios 

From good to great eLearning scenarios

Focus on what DOES happen not what SHOULD happen. Too often in eLearning, we are forced to idealise and formalise the learning process. This becomes so far removed from reality that it loses credibility with the target audience! You often see this when the eLearning scenarios are so easy that you don’t actually need to complete the course to be good at them. For example, when we designed a Medications Management programme, many nurses said found it difficult when they were interrupted by patients and family members. They said they needed to concentrate and focus on making sure they gave out the correct medication. They often administered a complex range of drugs for patients with very different medical needs. They also worried about having time to spend with patients who found medications hard to swallow. Together, we came up with guidelines about how to resolve these challenges. We also included a scenario path to address these issues.

How do you know if your learning scenarios will be effective?

I normally ‘dry run’ the scenario plan with a selection of the target using a focus group. It is important to have a range of different people with different levels of experience. Role-playing the eLearning scenario works well to see if it is a realistic enough representation of the actual day-to-day-job. I normally use simple post-it notes to visualise the decision and focus on:

  • Decisions - what is the actual decision to be made?
  • Knowledge/skill - what knowledge or skills do you need to make the decision?
  • Actions - what specific actions do learners take to make the decision?
  • Consequences – what are the results of each action, for both good and poor decisions?

The more realistic the decision and scenario – the closer it is to the learner’s actual normal workplace activities, the better. Not only does the decision need to be realistic, but so does the consequence. We don’t want to use phrases like “Well done, that is correct” – rather, we need to show actually what happens in the workplace. 

Our Compliance solutions provide an efficient way of training your staff based on engaging video and scenarios.

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The big challenge for eLearning scenarios

We have a challenge in eLearning in that we usually have to design for a very general audience. That means we lose the nuance and subtlety that actually drives high-performance. If you look at what drives and helps people to perform at a high level, it is mainly about understanding the subtlety of communication that goes on around you. It is also about reacting to unexpected happenings – like covering for a co-worker or working when you are understaffed, or making decisions under pressure. We need to build in this nuance and realism. To do this well, we need different types of scenarios to suit different types of people in our target audience. As eLearning designers, we just can’t go on accepting a once-size fits all approach to our learners. Also – a by-product to this analysis is that you need to be open to the fact that not all challenges that you uncover will be solved by training.

 For example, for our nurses:

We identified that adding a simple “Drugs round in progress” notice to the drugs trolley, helped to reduce the interruptions staff faced. Identifying these possible environment or process problems is a great benefit of doing good decision making analysis.

If you explain this to your client upfront, it can also be a great motivator for them to really engage with you.

Want to learn more?

Cathy Moore, an expert in eLearning scenarios, runs a really good scenario design workshop - we'd recommend it.

We'd love to give you a demo of how we use eLearning scenarios - take a look at our Content development services, or Compliance solutions.

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