7 Tips To Use eLearning Question Templates To Increase The Effectiveness Of Branching Scenarios

Is it taking longer than expected to create your decision-making branching scenario? In this article, I’ll share 7 tips to use eLearning question templates to create more cohesive, well-organized branching scenarios. This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

3 cool ideas to steal for your training scenarios

Looking for inspiration for your training scenarios? Here are some ideas from the world of fiction that you could try.

1. Offer multiple levels of backstory

Branching scenarios often represent decisions that take place in a complex world.

For example, let’s say your scenario describes a manager, Sarah, who has to decide what to do about a long-term employee whose performance is suddenly slipping. In the real world, Sarah would have a long history with the employee that would influence her decision. That’s the backstory.

It can be hard to cram a lot of backstory into an online scenario. One way to do it is with links that provide snippets of history, as I describe in chapter 10 of my book. It’s common to do that in Twine scenarios.

Example of branching scenario with multiple levels of backstoryArcane Intern (Unpaid) by Astrid Dalmady provides two levels of this additional information.

For example, you can click to look inside “your” bag. Once you’re in the bag, you can click more links for another layer of information.

From those additional links, you can navigate one step back to the bag or all the way back to the waiting room.

The story also appears to require you to click the backstory links. In training-land, a stakeholder could argue that this sort of control is necessary to make sure players have the information they need later to make a good decision.

I’m not convinced, especially since I rant regularly that we should let learners decide how much information they need. If we let players decide how much information to gather, they’re practicing a skill they need on the job: They need to recognize what information they need to make a good decision, and go get it.

2. Display the backstory in the margins

In most Twine games, when you click a link for more information, you go to another screen. But in Harmonia by Liza Daly, the extra information appears in the margins.

This approach could help reduce cognitive load — the player doesn’t have to juggle the information in short-term memory while also making decisions.

Example of branching scenario with backstory in the margins

3. Show how the story changes

Example of an interactive comicThis prototype of a comic shows one story that you can change by clicking a different decision in an early panel.

Choose a different fruit in the second panel, and the rest of the comic changes to show the consequence of your choice.

You could create a text version of this. For example, you could display a short story of an event at work that has one clickable decision early on. The default text that displays shows the result of one branch of the decision. The player can read that, and then click the decision to see how the story changes.

This could be a way to satisfy a stakeholder who says, “Make sure they see the consequence of Common Mistake X!” I’d prefer to let players make decisions from the beginning like the grownups they are, but this is a compromise you might need someday.

More posts about scenarios and interactive fiction


 

Design challenging scenarios that your learners love

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios, with my personal feedback: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

3 cool ideas to steal for your training scenarios

Looking for inspiration for your training scenarios? Here are some ideas from the world of fiction that you could try.

1. Offer multiple levels of backstory

Branching scenarios often represent decisions that take place in a complex world.

For example, let’s say your scenario describes a manager, Sarah, who has to decide what to do about a long-term employee whose performance is suddenly slipping. In the real world, Sarah would have a long history with the employee that would influence her decision. That’s the backstory.

It can be hard to cram a lot of backstory into an online scenario. One way to do it is with links that provide snippets of history, as I describe in chapter 10 of my book. It’s common to do that in Twine scenarios.

Example of branching scenario with multiple levels of backstoryArcane Intern (Unpaid) by Astrid Dalmady provides two levels of this additional information.

For example, you can click to look inside “your” bag. Once you’re in the bag, you can click more links for another layer of information.

From those additional links, you can navigate one step back to the bag or all the way back to the waiting room.

The story also appears to require you to click the backstory links. In training-land, a stakeholder could argue that this sort of control is necessary to make sure players have the information they need later to make a good decision.

I’m not convinced, especially since I rant regularly that we should let learners decide how much information they need. If we let players decide how much information to gather, they’re practicing a skill they need on the job: They need to recognize what information they need to make a good decision, and go get it.

2. Display the backstory in the margins

In most Twine games, when you click a link for more information, you go to another screen. But in Harmonia by Liza Daly, the extra information appears in the margins.

This approach could help reduce cognitive load — the player doesn’t have to juggle the information in short-term memory while also making decisions.

Example of branching scenario with backstory in the margins

3. Show how the story changes

Example of an interactive comicThis prototype of a comic shows one story that you can change by clicking a different decision in an early panel.

Choose a different fruit in the second panel, and the rest of the comic changes to show the consequence of your choice.

You could create a text version of this. For example, you could display a short story of an event at work that has one clickable decision early on. The default text that displays shows the result of one branch of the decision. The player can read that, and then click the decision to see how the story changes.

This could be a way to satisfy a stakeholder who says, “Make sure they see the consequence of Common Mistake X!” I’d prefer to let players make decisions from the beginning like the grownups they are, but this is a compromise you might need someday.

More posts about scenarios and interactive fiction


 

Design challenging scenarios that your learners love

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios, with my personal feedback: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

Branching or mini scenario: which do you need?

Scenario-based training design: Branching or mini scenario?You want people to practice making decisions in a situation that has grey areas — that’s perfect territory for a scenario. But what type of scenario do you need?

Will a one-scene mini-scenario be enough, or do you need to invest the (considerable!) time in creating a branching scenario?

Here are some ways to figure that out.

Mini-scenario: Short but mighty

Just one question
A mini-scenario is just one question. It gives you a realistic challenge, you make your choice, you see the realistic consequence, the end. The consequence might be a fast-forward peek into the future, but you make a decision in just one scene.

The following is a bare-bones mini-scenario. Ignore the fact that I obviously made up the options. Look at what the scene is requiring you to do and what type of feedback you get.

Bill needs to pass a scalpel to Sara during surgery. What should he do?

a) Put the scalpel in a sterile kidney dish and hold the dish out to Sara.
b) Hold it by the neck and place the handle in Sara’s palm.
c) Put it on the surgical drape for her to pick up herself.
d) Toss it gently in her direction, handle first.


Feedback for b: Sara is distracted by a loose clamp and moves her hand just as Bill places the handle in her palm. The scalpel cuts Bill’s thumb.

The feedback shows the consequences. It doesn’t say, “Incorrect. You should never…”

Other people use “mini-scenario” to mean different things. For me, “mini-scenario” doesn’t mean an activity that forces people to go back and do it right, an easy activity, or something that happens only within a limited timeframe. The choice you make in a mini-scenario could have consequences that appear years later, but it’s still a mini-scenario by my definition because it’s just one decision.

Another way to look at it: You can make a mini-scenario using any multiple-choice question tool that lets you provide unique feedback for each option. It can be long or short, but it’s just one decision, so it’s a mini-scenario in my world.

When to use minis

Mini-scenarios are useful when…

  • The real-world decision is self-contained. You might make the choice as part of a longer conversation or process, but its consequences don’t seriously affect anything later in the process. An example: “Andreas, a 33-year-old single man with no health issues, wants a health plan with international coverage and no copay. Which plan do you offer?”
  • You want to help people practice the same task with different variables. The health insurance example could be repeated with several other customers, including a 55-year-old woman, a couple planning to have a baby, etc. You don’t need to practice the entire conversation; you just practice recommending the right product.

The consequence of the player’s choice could happen immediately or in the future.

In the example with Andreas, if you choose the right plan, the feedback could say that five months later, Andreas gets hit by a bus in Zambia but is treated at no cost thanks to you having sold him the correct plan.

If you choose the wrong one, poor Andreas has to limp to an ATM and withdraw large amounts of cash.

So even though the consequence happens in the future, this is a mini-scenario because just one decision was required.

Examples where mini-scenarios are appropriate

  • Employees of a hotel need to quickly recognize and report possible child trafficking in many situations (at the check-in desk, in the parking lot, when cleaning a room, etc.). The basic decision is, “Is this suspicious enough for me to contact the authorities?” The mini-scenarios let them practice that quick decision in many situations, and people see only the scenarios that are relevant to their job roles.
  • People providing in-home care need to decide what to do when asked to administer medication they might not have been trained to administer. They can practice with several different types of patients, medications, and situations, including emergencies.
  • Bank cashiers need to practice deciding whether checks presented for deposit are acceptable, and how to respond to the customer presenting the check.

String them together for a pseudo-story

A series of mini-scenarios can be strung together to create what feels like a story, but the consequence of one decision doesn’t determine how the next decision is made.

A typical example is a “day in the life” story of disconnected decisions. For example, we play the role of a security guard who has to recognize and resolve unrelated issues during the day. Our decision about the tripping hazard at 10 AM doesn’t affect what we do about the unlocked door at 1 PM.

You can dig pretty deep in a mini

Players make just one decision, but that decision can be difficult. See the previous post on using mini-scenarios to practice recovering from mistakes to see an example.

Branching scenarios

Examples of branching scenariosA branching scenario contains multiple questions (“decision points”). The consequence of one decision affects the next decision.

Two people going through the same branching scenario could see different questions and story lines.

Try these examples of branching scenarios if you aren’t already familiar with the format.

When to use branching

Branching scenarios are useful when a decision made at one point determines the input for a decision made later. A classic example is a tricky conversation in which you ask the wrong question, limiting the information you have to work with in a later part of the discussion.

They help people practice:

  • Recognizing and recovering from mistakes, especially when the recovery might require several decisions (see this post for more on this)
  • Making decisions in extended, ambiguous situations
  • Deciding when to stop gathering information and act

A common mistake is to assume you need a branching scenario if you want people to practice a longish process. However, you need branching only if:

  • There are multiple grey areas — multiple decision points where people make a judgment call that can pull them on or off track.
  • Decisions made at one point limit or expand the options available at another point.
  • People commonly make a mistake at one point in the process and need to recognize and recover from it later.

If you decide that you don’t really need branching, you might consider offering several mini-scenarios that focus just on the tricky step in the process, as described in Mini-scenarios: How to help people recover from mistakes.

Teaching scenario, aka “control-freak scenario”

Example of branching scenario that doesn't branchA third type of scenario might look at first like a branching scenario, but there’s just one path. Two people going through the activity will see the same questions because there’s only one way through the story.

To progress in the story, you have to answer “correctly.” If you choose a “wrong” answer, you’re forced to go back and try again until you get it right. Then the story continues.

I call this a “control-freak scenario,” because that’s how it feels to the player. You’re not allowed to experiment. You’re punished for bad choices by being made to go back and try again until you get it right.

Learn more about control-freak scenarios and when (rarely!) they might be useful.

There’s a lot more in my book and blog

My book Map it digs deep into how to design these types of activities. And to make sure you don’t miss another post in this series on scenarios, sign up for blog updates.


 

Own Map It? Please leave a review!

I have a favor to ask. Do you own my book Map It? If so, please consider leaving a quick review on Amazon to help others decide if the book will be useful for them. Thanks!

Design challenging scenarios that your learners love

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

Branching or mini scenario: which do you need?

Scenario-based training design: Branching or mini scenario?You want people to practice making decisions in a situation that has grey areas — that’s perfect territory for a scenario. But what type of scenario do you need?

Will a one-scene mini-scenario be enough, or do you need to invest the (considerable!) time in creating a branching scenario?

Here are some ways to figure that out.

Mini-scenario: Short but mighty

Just one question
A mini-scenario is just one question. It gives you a realistic challenge, you make your choice, you see the realistic consequence, the end. The consequence might be a fast-forward peek into the future, but you make a decision in just one scene.

The following is a bare-bones mini-scenario. Ignore the fact that I obviously made up the options. Look at what the scene is requiring you to do and what type of feedback you get.

Bill needs to pass a scalpel to Sara during surgery. What should he do?

a) Put the scalpel in a sterile kidney dish and hold the dish out to Sara.
b) Hold it by the neck and place the handle in Sara’s palm.
c) Put it on the surgical drape for her to pick up herself.
d) Toss it gently in her direction, handle first.


Feedback for b: Sara is distracted by a loose clamp and moves her hand just as Bill places the handle in her palm. The scalpel cuts Bill’s thumb.

The feedback shows the consequences. It doesn’t say, “Incorrect. You should never…”

Other people use “mini-scenario” to mean different things. For me, “mini-scenario” doesn’t mean an activity that forces people to go back and do it right, an easy activity, or something that happens only within a limited timeframe. The choice you make in a mini-scenario could have consequences that appear years later, but it’s still a mini-scenario by my definition because it’s just one decision.

Another way to look at it: You can make a mini-scenario using any multiple-choice question tool that lets you provide unique feedback for each option. It can be long or short, but it’s just one decision, so it’s a mini-scenario in my world.

When to use minis

Mini-scenarios are useful when…

  • The real-world decision is self-contained. You might make the choice as part of a longer conversation or process, but its consequences don’t seriously affect anything later in the process. An example: “Andreas, a 33-year-old single man with no health issues, wants a health plan with international coverage and no copay. Which plan do you offer?”
  • You want to help people practice the same task with different variables. The health insurance example could be repeated with several other customers, including a 55-year-old woman, a couple planning to have a baby, etc. You don’t need to practice the entire conversation; you just practice recommending the right product.

The consequence of the player’s choice could happen immediately or in the future.

In the example with Andreas, if you choose the right plan, the feedback could say that five months later, Andreas gets hit by a bus in Zambia but is treated at no cost thanks to you having sold him the correct plan.

If you choose the wrong one, poor Andreas has to limp to an ATM and withdraw large amounts of cash.

So even though the consequence happens in the future, this is a mini-scenario because just one decision was required.

Examples where mini-scenarios are appropriate

  • Employees of a hotel need to quickly recognize and report possible child trafficking in many situations (at the check-in desk, in the parking lot, when cleaning a room, etc.). The basic decision is, “Is this suspicious enough for me to contact the authorities?” The mini-scenarios let them practice that quick decision in many situations, and people see only the scenarios that are relevant to their job roles.
  • People providing in-home care need to decide what to do when asked to administer medication they might not have been trained to administer. They can practice with several different types of patients, medications, and situations, including emergencies.
  • Bank cashiers need to practice deciding whether checks presented for deposit are acceptable, and how to respond to the customer presenting the check.

String them together for a pseudo-story

A series of mini-scenarios can be strung together to create what feels like a story, but the consequence of one decision doesn’t determine how the next decision is made.

A typical example is a “day in the life” story of disconnected decisions. For example, we play the role of a security guard who has to recognize and resolve unrelated issues during the day. Our decision about the tripping hazard at 10 AM doesn’t affect what we do about the unlocked door at 1 PM.

You can dig pretty deep in a mini

Players make just one decision, but that decision can be difficult. See the previous post on using mini-scenarios to practice recovering from mistakes to see an example.

Branching scenarios

Examples of branching scenariosA branching scenario contains multiple questions (“decision points”). The consequence of one decision affects the next decision.

Two people going through the same branching scenario could see different questions and story lines.

Try these examples of branching scenarios if you aren’t already familiar with the format.

When to use branching

Branching scenarios are useful when a decision made at one point determines the input for a decision made later. A classic example is a tricky conversation in which you ask the wrong question, limiting the information you have to work with in a later part of the discussion.

They help people practice:

  • Recognizing and recovering from mistakes, especially when the recovery might require several decisions (see this post for more on this)
  • Making decisions in extended, ambiguous situations
  • Deciding when to stop gathering information and act

A common mistake is to assume you need a branching scenario if you want people to practice a longish process. However, you need branching only if:

  • There are multiple grey areas — multiple decision points where people make a judgment call that can pull them on or off track.
  • Decisions made at one point limit or expand the options available at another point.
  • People commonly make a mistake at one point in the process and need to recognize and recover from it later.

If you decide that you don’t really need branching, you might consider offering several mini-scenarios that focus just on the tricky step in the process, as described in Mini-scenarios: How to help people recover from mistakes.

Teaching scenario, aka “control-freak scenario”

Example of branching scenario that doesn't branchA third type of scenario might look at first like a branching scenario, but there’s just one path. Two people going through the activity will see the same questions because there’s only one way through the story.

To progress in the story, you have to answer “correctly.” If you choose a “wrong” answer, you’re forced to go back and try again until you get it right. Then the story continues.

I call this a “control-freak scenario,” because that’s how it feels to the player. You’re not allowed to experiment. You’re punished for bad choices by being made to go back and try again until you get it right.

Learn more about control-freak scenarios and when (rarely!) they might be useful.

There’s a lot more in my book and blog

My book Map it digs deep into how to design these types of activities. And to make sure you don’t miss another post in this series on scenarios, sign up for blog updates.


 

Own Map It? Please leave a review!

I have a favor to ask. Do you own my book Map It? If so, please consider leaving a quick review on Amazon to help others decide if the book will be useful for them. Thanks!

Design challenging scenarios that your learners love

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

3 ways to help people learn from mistakes in branching scenarios

Let’s say I’m in your branching scenario, and I’ve made a not-great choice. You show me the not-great consequence of that choice. Now what?

Can I go back and change my decision, or do I have to continue in the story, looking for ways to recover from my mistake?

It depends on what you want me to practice. Here are some ideas to consider.

First, identify why I make mistakes on the job

Your analysis of “What makes this thing hard to do?” has probably shown you many reasons why people make mistakes during the task.

First, fix what you can, such as by improving processes, tools, or job aids.

Then, if you decide that practice activities will help, create activities that tempt people to make the same mistakes they’re making on the job. In your safe, fictional world, they can finally see the consequences of their mistakes and practice recovering from them.

There are a bajillion ways to tempt people to make mistakes, which may someday become a separate blog post, but for now here are some ideas.

  • Make sure your options include the common mistakes, cleverly disguised as reasonable choices.
  • Add time pressure to the story, if it’s realistic. For example, in the story, the problem has to be resolved ASAP.
  • Add emotional pressure. For example, if managers aren’t addressing possible addictions among staff because they “don’t want to pry,” make the possibly-addicted worker in the story clearly unwilling to talk, to make the “I don’t want to pry” resistance more intense.
  • Have other characters tempt the player to make a common mistake. For example, if “everyone knows you should do X” is a common misconception that’s causing mistakes, have a fictional colleague say “Hey, you should do X” just like they do in the real world.
  • Add debating advisors. Recreate the type of confusing debate that can lead to mistakes by having “helpers” offer conflicting advice. See Connect with Haji Kamal for an example.
  • Have players debate among themselves. If you run the scenario in small groups, require each member of the group to defend a particular choice whether they agree with it or not. For example, Pat always has to defend option A, Kyle has to defend option B, and so on. There are several other ways to use scenarios in live sessions.

Then decide what you want me to do

The answer to “Should they be able to change their decision?” depends on what you want players to do.

1. Learn a brand new thing by doing it

Recommended: “Explore other options”

If you want me to learn to sell widgets to newly-arrived Martians, first tell me that you aren’t tracking anything I do. Then throw me into a sales conversation with some optional help. As I muddle through, show me the consequence of each choice and include the chance to “explore other options.”

“Explore other options” can take me back one step or more, depending on how the conversation is structured, so I can quickly see how a different statement changes the conversation.

I’m learning by trying stuff out, so I should be encouraged to try stuff out. I shouldn’t be penalized for making a not-great choice.

Also, of course, you’re just showing me the consequence of my choice. You’re not interrupting with “Incorrect!” or other preachiness.

My not-exactly-realistic Chainsaw Training scenario is a learn-by-doing activity.

2. Practice recognizing and recovering from mistakes in a thing I already do but don’t do well

Recommended: Make me continue in the story, looking for ways to repair the damage

If I already sell widgets to Martians but don’t do it well, throw me into the sales conversation with optional tips, as above. However, when I see the consequence for a choice, I don’t have the chance to go back and “explore other options.” I’m stuck with that choice and its consequences.

If my choice was not great, I need to do two things, just like in the real world:

  • Recognize that I’ve made a mistake (notice that the buyer is starting to lose interest)
  • Find a way to recover from the mistake

The flowchartI continue the conversation, maybe finding a way to save it, and at the end of the scenario I see the final consequence. Only then do I get a chance to start over.

For this to work, the scenario has to have what participants in my scenario design course have called “redemption paths.” If I’m going down a not-good path and realize it, let me choose an option that will bring me to a better path.

Here’s an example from the Connect with Haji Kamal scenario. The heavier line shows the preferred path. At several points, I can realize I’m going in a poor direction and make a choice that brings me to the better path.

Below, I can realize that I haven’t continued the small talk enough. I can abandon my poor path and get onto the better one by asking about the haji’s family.

Example of mistake recovery in branching scenario

3. Practice doing a scary thing until I feel confident

Recommended: At first, let me explore other options. Later, challenge me to recover from my mistakes.

Let’s say that selling widgets to Martians is fraught with cross-cultural risks. If I say something the wrong way, my Martian prospect could get so offended that interplanetary relations could be damaged.

This is a scary situation, so you’ll want to give me lots of practice in a safe, fictional place. Once I prove that I can make good decisions, you can let me do it on the job with real Martians.

One way to do this is to give me multiple scenarios that increase in difficulty. In the earlier scenarios, let me “explore other options” so I can see the effects of different statements.

Later, maybe when I’ve said I’m ready for a more realistic challenge, give me scenarios in which I can’t go back. I have to recognize and recover from mistakes before they escalate into interplanetary offenses.

“But we need to assess them”

If a stakeholder insists on a formal assessment, you can use the same type of branching scenario. However, this time, tell me you’re tracking what I do, and give me no chance to turn back the clock. Crucially, give me redemption options that let me get onto more successful paths when I realize I’ve made a mistake, just like in the real world.

If you were providing optional help that I should have internalized by now, remove it. Make me fly solo.

A scenario can be used this way to evaluate learning as described in Will Thalheimer’s new evaluation model. See it here.

How can you do this with mini-scenarios?

A mini-scenario is a one-scene story in which I make a choice, I see the consequence, the end. It might seem like you don’t have enough room in the story to let people make and recover from mistakes, but there are some techniques you can use.

We’ll look at those in the next post in this series. Sign up here to be notified when the next post appears.


 

Scenario design course open for registration

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

New: Invite me to your workplace to brainstorm

In a one-day visit to your workplace, I’ll help you:

  • Identify and conquer the forces that are inspiring information dumps
  • Help your team transition from content producers to valued performance igniters
  • Establish new procedures that make it easy for everyone to create activity-rich materials
  • More deeply embed action mapping in your workplace

I’m available around the world and will be in New Zealand in mid-May. Learn more.

3 ways to help people learn from mistakes in branching scenarios

Let’s say I’m in your branching scenario, and I’ve made a not-great choice. You show me the not-great consequence of that choice. Now what?

Can I go back and change my decision, or do I have to continue in the story, looking for ways to recover from my mistake?

It depends on what you want me to practice. Here are some ideas to consider.

First, identify why I make mistakes on the job

Your analysis of “What makes this thing hard to do?” has probably shown you many reasons why people make mistakes during the task.

First, fix what you can, such as by improving processes, tools, or job aids.

Then, if you decide that practice activities will help, create activities that tempt people to make the same mistakes they’re making on the job. In your safe, fictional world, they can finally see the consequences of their mistakes and practice recovering from them.

There are a bajillion ways to tempt people to make mistakes, which may someday become a separate blog post, but for now here are some ideas.

  • Make sure your options include the common mistakes, cleverly disguised as reasonable choices.
  • Add time pressure to the story, if it’s realistic. For example, in the story, the problem has to be resolved ASAP.
  • Add emotional pressure. For example, if managers aren’t addressing possible addictions among staff because they “don’t want to pry,” make the possibly-addicted worker in the story clearly unwilling to talk, to make the “I don’t want to pry” resistance more intense.
  • Have other characters tempt the player to make a common mistake. For example, if “everyone knows you should do X” is a common misconception that’s causing mistakes, have a fictional colleague say “Hey, you should do X” just like they do in the real world.
  • Add debating advisors. Recreate the type of confusing debate that can lead to mistakes by having “helpers” offer conflicting advice. See Connect with Haji Kamal for an example.
  • Have players debate among themselves. If you run the scenario in small groups, require each member of the group to defend a particular choice whether they agree with it or not. For example, Pat always has to defend option A, Kyle has to defend option B, and so on. There are several other ways to use scenarios in live sessions.

Then decide what you want me to do

The answer to “Should they be able to change their decision?” depends on what you want players to do.

1. Learn a brand new thing by doing it

Recommended: “Explore other options”

If you want me to learn to sell widgets to newly-arrived Martians, first tell me that you aren’t tracking anything I do. Then throw me into a sales conversation with some optional help. As I muddle through, show me the consequence of each choice and include the chance to “explore other options.”

“Explore other options” can take me back one step or more, depending on how the conversation is structured, so I can quickly see how a different statement changes the conversation.

I’m learning by trying stuff out, so I should be encouraged to try stuff out. I shouldn’t be penalized for making a not-great choice.

Also, of course, you’re just showing me the consequence of my choice. You’re not interrupting with “Incorrect!” or other preachiness.

My not-exactly-realistic Chainsaw Training scenario is a learn-by-doing activity.

2. Practice recognizing and recovering from mistakes in a thing I already do but don’t do well

Recommended: Make me continue in the story, looking for ways to repair the damage

If I already sell widgets to Martians but don’t do it well, throw me into the sales conversation with optional tips, as above. However, when I see the consequence for a choice, I don’t have the chance to go back and “explore other options.” I’m stuck with that choice and its consequences.

If my choice was not great, I need to do two things, just like in the real world:

  • Recognize that I’ve made a mistake (notice that the buyer is starting to lose interest)
  • Find a way to recover from the mistake

The flowchartI continue the conversation, maybe finding a way to save it, and at the end of the scenario I see the final consequence. Only then do I get a chance to start over.

For this to work, the scenario has to have what participants in my scenario design course have called “redemption paths.” If I’m going down a not-good path and realize it, let me choose an option that will bring me to a better path.

Here’s an example from the Connect with Haji Kamal scenario. The heavier line shows the preferred path. At several points, I can realize I’m going in a poor direction and make a choice that brings me to the better path.

Below, I can realize that I haven’t continued the small talk enough. I can abandon my poor path and get onto the better one by asking about the haji’s family.

Example of mistake recovery in branching scenario

3. Practice doing a scary thing until I feel confident

Recommended: At first, let me explore other options. Later, challenge me to recover from my mistakes.

Let’s say that selling widgets to Martians is fraught with cross-cultural risks. If I say something the wrong way, my Martian prospect could get so offended that interplanetary relations could be damaged.

This is a scary situation, so you’ll want to give me lots of practice in a safe, fictional place. Once I prove that I can make good decisions, you can let me do it on the job with real Martians.

One way to do this is to give me multiple scenarios that increase in difficulty. In the earlier scenarios, let me “explore other options” so I can see the effects of different statements.

Later, maybe when I’ve said I’m ready for a more realistic challenge, give me scenarios in which I can’t go back. I have to recognize and recover from mistakes before they escalate into interplanetary offenses.

“But we need to assess them”

If a stakeholder insists on a formal assessment, you can use the same type of branching scenario. However, this time, tell me you’re tracking what I do, and give me no chance to turn back the clock. Crucially, give me redemption options that let me get onto more successful paths when I realize I’ve made a mistake, just like in the real world.

If you were providing optional help that I should have internalized by now, remove it. Make me fly solo.

A scenario can be used this way to evaluate learning as described in Will Thalheimer’s new evaluation model. See it here.

How can you do this with mini-scenarios?

A mini-scenario is a one-scene story in which I make a choice, I see the consequence, the end. It might seem like you don’t have enough room in the story to let people make and recover from mistakes, but there are some techniques you can use.

We’ll look at those in the next post in this series. Sign up here to be notified when the next post appears.


 

Scenario design course open for registration

Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios: The June session of the live, online scenario design course is open for registration. There are sessions for people in the Australia-Pacific region as well as the Americas and Europe. Check it out.

New: Invite me to your workplace to brainstorm

In a one-day visit to your workplace, I’ll help you:

  • Identify and conquer the forces that are inspiring information dumps
  • Help your team transition from content producers to valued performance igniters
  • Establish new procedures that make it easy for everyone to create activity-rich materials
  • More deeply embed action mapping in your workplace

I’m available around the world and will be in New Zealand in mid-May. Learn more.