How to Use Branching Scenarios in E-Learning

Branching scenarios offer a dynamic way to build engagement and improve retention. Have you tried them?

If you’re looking for a better way to test learner knowledge than your standard linear test, you’re not alone. While quizzes have plenty of applications, they can often become tedious for learners.

More importantly, they often don’t do a good job of fully evaluating the depth of knowledge of a learner. Because quiz questions can’t build on each other without giving away previous answers, they’re often more like a simple spot-test of learner knowledge. And they aren’t at all useful for evaluating shifting or dynamic situations where a learner has to apply their own decision-making processes.

Fortunately, online courses offer a perfect medium for trying out a new method of learner evaluation: branching scenarios. This testing method gives your learners a multi-stage test, not unlike a choose-your-own-adventure story. If you’re wondering how this works—and how it could work for you—here’s where to start.

Where do branching scenarios work best in online training?

Branching scenarios help learners work through decision-making processes for handling a variety of situations. They can be especially useful for learning the soft skills required in leadership, customer service, or even team-building exercises. They are also important for management decisions, such as how to respond to a supply chain crisis.

More broadly, they help learners prepare for responses in real-time. For instance, if you were teaching a scuba diving certification course, you could use a branching scenario model to help learners understand the appropriate response to an underwater crisis. Since some of these responses have dire consequences in a live environment, this training can provide crucial preparation beforehand, because it makes it safe to fail.

Branching scenarios also create more vivid material for your learners to engage with. Because they usually involve some degree of story-telling, learners connect more strongly with the test. They also improve situational awareness, as learners must usually factor in several competing priorities and consequences as they search for the appropriate response. A scenario that asks an employee to choose which of several unhappy customers to serve first probably won’t end with everyone happy, but it will help that employee learn how to make the best of a bad situation.

How do you design a branching scenario lesson?

A good branching scenario requires extensive scripting, and it’s good to chart your scenario using a workflow or mind-map. This will help you keep track of your options, as well as places where choices might converge or end.

Begin with your initial scenario. Choose this scenario carefully so that it presents a dilemma that allows your learner to put their lesson to use. It should also be a complex enough situation that it will take several steps to resolve.

You should also identify what your goal is for the scenario. Because your learners can follow several different paths, branching scenarios don’t have to have one perfect answer. They can have multiple passable answers, some of which are better than others. With these evaluations, the thought process an employee follows to reach a conclusion is just as important as the outcome itself.

With your end in mind, begin mapping out options for your learner, as well as the consequences for each decision. The consequences should lead to new decisions in turn. The number of options you offer at each stage, the more scenarios you will have.

Remember that some scenarios can lead back into each other, others can dead-end, and still others can lead to a quick and early resolution. The whole point is that they provide a non-linear way for learners to interact with material. However, you should take care that each scenario flows naturally into the next option.

Once you’ve designed your scenario, it’s time to put it through some extensive testing. You will want to carefully go through every single option to make sure they end in the appropriate place, and that each scenario transitions appropriately.

Pros and cons of branching scenarios.

If the above sounds exciting to you, you’re not alone. Branching scenarios clearly have a lot of applications in online courses. However, they aren’t without their pros and cons. Before you jump head-first into creating a workflow, it’s worth examining some of the primary advantages and disadvantages.

Branching scenarios cons:

  • Branching scenarios take longer to design and test than linear models.
  • They can quickly become highly complex, making it easier to create a flawed test.
  • The added time and complexity involved in designing a branching scenario adds to the overall cost of course creation.

Branching scenarios pros:

  • Learners must actively think through their decision-making process.
  • They better prepare learners for complex, real-time interactions.
  • Learners can retake a scenario to find a better outcome without encountering the same material on their first attempt.
  • They are a form of “premium” content that learners are often willing to pay more for.

Branching scenarios offers learners a way to put theory into practice.

As a dynamic, engaging method for evaluating learner understanding, branching scenarios are a valuable tool for many educators. They’re also popular among learners, as they are far more engaging and effective than linear tests.

Obviously, because of the time and complexity involved, they won’t work for every test or in every application. But for any course hoping to build a certain skill, develop decision-making, or train responses to challenging situations, they’re an exciting and invaluable resource.

If you want to try your hand at incorporating branching scenarios into your course, you will probably want to use an authoring tool such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate to help you out. Both these tools can be used as LearnDash add-ons using Tin Can API or SCORM.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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