scenario based learning science

The Learning Science Behind Scenario-Based Training

From a learning science perspective — the marriage of psychology and brain science — the goal of corporate learning and development is lofty. Learning management system (LMS) platforms aim to help clients provide their employees with effective learning and development through continuous upskilling and reskilling across a broad range of skill sets. These include all of the important classes of skills including hard skills, people skills (or soft skills) and broad-based situational awareness.

Learning and development teams must continuously train all of these skills in a constantly changing workforce, in a constantly changing workplace, and in a manner that provides seamless learning within the flow of work.

One problem that exists with employee training comes from the broad range of contexts and situations that are required to train people skills and situational awareness. One can train a specific idea but it needs to be trained with nuance embedded within a context-rich story that engages emotional learning systems in the brain. This draws the learner in and allows them to “see themselves” in the training. 72% of students report that they have a better time learning and remembering topics if video lectures are backed up with assignments or practical tasks that they can apply their minds to. Enter scenario-based learning.

What is scenario based learning?

Scenario based learning (SBL) involves, as the name implies, teaching through the use of simulated scenarios which use narratives to guide learners through certain situations which can be adapted based on the choices and responses of the learners. 

Much of the basis for scenario based learning comes from situated learning theory, a theory developed by Jean Lave whose theory is that learning occurs best when understood as knowledge that is embedded within an authentic context, activity and culture and which occurs naturally as opposed to knowledge existing as abstract and out of context knowledge as it would be traditionally taught in a classroom or training environment.

Scenario based learning is therefore an attempt to try and bridge this gap, bringing scenarios that use and simulate elements of context into a learning environment. These scenarios work best when they mirror real world situations that learners are likely to encounter within their professions.

Scenario-based learning can be presented in many different ways, depending on the learning platform. Some describe a specific scenario using static pictures and text, whereas others use video-based presentations with animation, live actors or both. In both cases, the learner is exposed to the scenario and gains hard skills knowledge as well as situational awareness. 

To help fire up your neurons on the efficacy of SBL, here are a few scenarios in which scenario-based training can lead to better retention and implementation of workplace learning.

1. Simulations

ABC Company is replacing their customer service software with a new system. It’s different from what the customer service representatives are used to, so the company is retraining them. Today they are completing a series of simulations on the kinds of activities they typically perform on the job. Right now, everyone is engaged in a role-play activity in which Peter plays a new customer and Sue plays the customer service rep. What makes this role play unique and effective is the use of simulated tasks in the application. So, while Sue interacts with Peter in this role play, she is also actively filling out his order in the simulation.

What makes this a great use of scenario-based instruction is the context. Here, Sue can simultaneously simulate the customer interaction and use of the system — mirroring what she is used to doing with the old application. This lets her practice a real process in an environment that is as close to the real world as possible, while also allowing her to safely make mistakes and learn to correct them before she uses the new application with a real customer.

2. Branching

Adam is a new hire in an assembly line position. His job will be to assemble six different parts based on a work order and the core unit he receives via the assembly line. In his job, he will have to make decisions about which sub-parts (such as bolts, screws, plates, etc.) to select from the boxes on his bench to assemble the part on the work order. Adam is learning via a web-based training program. To begin this part of the training, he has been given four core units, 16 boxes with sub-parts, and a work order. The work order calls for him to build three different parts. What he sees on the screen mimics what he will eventually see on the assembly line. Adam’s next step is to choose the part he will build first by clicking on a core unit. Adam could choose any of the three core units to build first. No matter which he chooses, the system branches to support his ability to learn all three tasks. And if he selects a core unit that is not on his work order, the system can prompt him to take the effective action for that choice (call a supervisor, for instance).

What makes this a terrific example of scenario-based instruction is that Adam chooses the flow of learning that best matches his needs. Some learners will choose the easiest path first to build confidence, while others like the challenge of tackling the most difficult task first. Branching scenarios can also be used to provide selective content to specific learners. Imagine, for example, that Adam is being trained to build three different types of parts, two of which overlap with another trainee, but the third does not. By initially selecting the applicable job title, Adam and his colleague can self-sort to receive just the training they need.

3. “Virtual” Environments

XYZ Bank is opening a new branch in a new country. They have hired all new people for this branch and because of restrictions in the country, some of the procedures the new hires will need to use are not used elsewhere in the bank, so the company has chosen not to train them by shadowing employees at other branches as they normally do. The employees have just completed a six-week new hire training program designed just for them, and the branch is due to open in three days. Today, they are each occupying their real positions in the bank, acting as they will when the branch opens. Volunteers from the company are acting as customers who arrive with various requests. Throughout the next three days, the employees will perform their tasks using real software, play money, and real situations with fake customers. Trainers will walk the floor to assist when a learner gets stuck.

This virtual environment gives learners a chance to test their learning before the branch opens its doors to real customers. Virtual environments mimic as closely as possible the full context of a task, a set of tasks, or the job. Learners can practice making choices and applying their learning on a continuous basis as they will in the real world. Today, virtual environments also include virtual reality applications. These platforms offer a great deal of flexibility for scenario-based learning, but they are more expensive and require greater expertise from IT professionals than most learning organizations have. The simplest environments are usually the actual work environment (as in the example).

4. Gamification

After six months of training and another six months on the job, ABC Bank phone representatives are still having trouble with some common transactions. Now, during breaks in the flow of calls, learners are playing a game that allows them to take simulated calls. Successful completion of the transactions in these simulated calls wins them badges, and accumulating badges lets them “level up” to more difficult transactions.

Gamification enhances the learners’ engagement and emotional quotient during their learning experience. Learners stay motivated because they are having fun and want to win the competition. This style of scenario-based training also promotes recall because the interaction with the game keeps more parts of the brain involved. In addition, games challenge the learners so that by comparison, the real-world transactions seem easier.

No two people learn the same, but learners are more likely to be receptive to content that is relevant and interactive. The visual, virtual, and sometimes even competitive nature of scenario-based learning engages learners, helping them to retain and synthesize information for a stronger, better workplace. At Allarium, we care about the science of learning. Our simulation-based training platform empowers you to start and run a workplace training program with ease. Allarium works with experienced industry professionals to recreate realistic situations that teams often encounter and struggle to overcome. These custom-curated scenarios will give your team the confidence to take risks and make big moves. Contact us today to learn more!

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