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Why You Should Incorporate Scenarios into your eLearning

Today is your first day at your new job. You sit down at a meeting with your team, excited and nervous to get to know everyone. The team begins to discuss their dislike for face-to-face meetings and how they would rather email than attend an actual meeting. You totally disagree as you thrive on human contact. Your new supervisor, Sarah, looks at you and asks if you agree. She also mentions that they will probably cancel face-to-face meetings if no one likes them. What do you do?

You are new and don’t want to rock the boat, so you just smile and agree.

B) You tell everyone that they are crazy and begin to discuss the importance of connecting face-to-face as a team.

C) You shrug and say you don’t mind.

Did you come up with an answer? Did you feel engaged as you imagined yourself in this real-life situation? This is an example of a scenario.

Scenarios are a great way to engage your learners and transport them to another world. Ideally this world would be a realistic representation of what they are learning. When you are creating your learning solutions, creating a realistic environment is highly effective and scenarios are a great way to achieve this.

Imagine you are completing a course on fire evacuation. The course has been designed in two completely different ways though incorporate the same content.

Course A: Course A is designed in a way that requires you to read through text from a guidelines booklet. The booklet tells you the rules associated with fire evacuation, includes safety roles in the organisation and describes the step-by-step process to follow if a fire occurs. You skim through the text and hope that some of the information will be retained. Realistically you know that when there is a fire evacuation, you will just follow everyone else (and it’s unlikely a fire would break out anyway right?!).

Course B: On the other hand, you could be provided with an online learning simulation that puts you in the shoes of someone experiencing an actual fire. A video on the screen shows a burning room and the video looks around to find an exit (from the first-person view of the learner), without luck. Suddenly, a question pops up on the screen. What do you want to do? A timer starts counting down from 10 seconds as you consider your options.

A) Stay where you are. Someone will find you.

B) Look for the closest exit and feel if the door handle is hot.

C) Listen for a whistle and follow the sound.

Which course did you find more engaging? If research is correct, you should choose option B, as learners are more motivated by scenario-based e-Learning than traditional instruction (Ivec, 2013).

So why is scenario-based eLearning effective?

1. Learners Understand the Importance of the Learning

It can be difficult to understand the importance of a lesson until you experience what can happen if you don’t know it. Imagine you are planning to go on a hike with a friend. You are unlikely to go out of your way to research what to do if you get lost in the forest as you don’t have a complete understanding of what that experience would be like. On the other hand, if you had recently been camping and gotten lost on a walk through the forest, you would be more likely to be prepared for next time. You will potentially have an emotional reaction in relation to the possibility of that outcome and will understand the stress involved with getting lost. Scenarios can have this same impact!

2. Experience the Learning First-Hand

There is nothing worse than completing a learning course that puts you in a situation that you know isn’t realistic or does not relate to your actual day to day life. By incorporating a realistic scenario, you can prepare your learner for when the actual real-life situation takes place. For example, you can include instructions in a guideline document on how to handle an angry customer, though will the process be effective in reality? Does the guidelines document include the angry tone, the feelings of anxiety from the learner or the loud environment around them? Create a scenario that allows your learner to experience how the situation would play out in real life. 

You may now be asking, “How do I create effective and realistic scenarios for my learning solutions?”.

The below diagram is a great example of how you can create a scenario storyboard for your learning.

Scenario Storyboard from the eLearning Industry (Ivec, 2013). 

1. Select a scenario that taps into your learning outcomes and is realistic to your learner’s environment.

2. Select the different decisions that learners can make in the scenario. When you are coming up with options include the correct decision as well as the most commonly made mistakes. For example, if you have a learning outcome to meet, think about why people aren’t meeting it now. What do they need to do differently (inspiration from Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping Process).

3. You can also design your scenarios so that each decision leads to a certain outcome (which may then involve another decision to be made). Think about it realistically, if there was an angry customer on the phone and the employee yelled back at them, what is likely to happen from there?

Remember, when you are creating scenarios and brainstorming the most commonly made errors to incorporate in your answers, the answer may not necessarily be training. For example, if a common mistake that you identify is that staff never wear personal protective equipment (PPE), is it because A) they forgot or because B) the PPE is not available for them to access. If the answer is B, the solution does not need to be a training scenario and can just involve purchasing more PPE and ensuring that it is accessible for staff.

We have come across some great examples for scenario-based training though we would love to hear what you have created at your organisation. Do you find scenario-based training effective? We hope that this added value to your day and that this helps you to improve your craft!

A little bit about the author...

"I am Hannah and I am passionate about how we can create effective and fun learning experiences. I believe that if you create enjoyment and social connection through learning, learning outcomes can sky rocket! The world is changing and becoming more and more digital by the day. We need to harness this and see what's possible!".


Ivec, S. (2013). Why You Should be Using Scenarios in e-Learning. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from

Moore, C. (2017). Map it – The Hands on Guide to Strategic Training Design. Montesa Press.

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