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Frustrated with Disengaged Learners: This eLearning Approach Can Change That

Frustrated with Disengaged Learners: This eLearning Approach Can Change That


Looking for a way to engage learners and make their learning experiences more meaningful? Consider using a scenario-based e-Learning approach for your next eLearning project. This article explains what is scenario-based e-eLearning, how it engages learners, and the best learning environments and situations in which to use it.

What is Scenario-based e-Learning

Scenario-based e-Learning allows learners to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes in a safe environment that mimics the challenges they would experience in real life. Learners are presented with a real work assignment or challenge, they are given three to four choices to respond to the challenge and each choice has real-world, intrinsic consequences. Intrinsic consequences are consequences that would occur naturally in the real world as a result of a specific choice. For example, if a learner was tasked with properly cooking a piece of chicken for customers at a restaurant and the learner undercooks the chicken, an intrinsic consequence could be that customers become ill from salmonella poisoning and sue the restaurant.

This approach engages learners because it’s problem-centered, shows immediate relevance to the learner’s job, lets the learner use prior experience and allows the learner to course correct based on mistakes. These are important factors that motivate learners to acquire new knowledge.

When Should You Use Scenario-based e-Learning

Although scenario-based e-Learning is a great way to engage learners, it’s not appropriate for every situation. It’s best used with learners who have a basic or foundation understanding of the topic. For example, if I’m creating a course where a people manager has to handle a difficult situation, that learner should have some basic people management skills that they can apply to the challenge.

Here are some examples of situations that may work well with scenario-based e-Learning.

Infrequent Tasks: Learners must solve a problem that rarely occurs in the work environment.   

Critical Thinking Tasks: Learners must find a solution by adapting their experience to a new situation.

High Risk Tasks: Learners perform a task that is too high risk to learn on the job.     

You can successfully apply scenario-based e-Learning to interpersonal, diagnosis and repair, and design skills.

Let’s take a closer look at using scenario-based e-Learning for design skills. Design scenarios may focus on a product that could have multiple effective solutions. An example of this could be for new instructional designers to design a course that uses Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning. Although the criteria for the course may require the course to have the same specific elements, the learner may apply them in different ways. For example, the first step in Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning requires gaining attention. There are many strategies the learner can use to gain attention: pose an interesting question; state a counter intuitive statistic; or play a relevant video clip. The criteria for the desired outcome are specific, the course must begin with an attention getter, but the learning environment is open-ended because the learner has many options to arrive at the desired outcome. Also, because the learning environment is open-ended, getting feedback from an expert or mentor would be more appropriate than getting a stock, predetermined feedback. The feedback will change with each product the learner produces. These types of courses work better in a virtual or in-person, instructor-led-training environment.

Wrap Up

Scenario-based e-Learning provides meaningful application of skills and allows learners to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. It’s not a simulation or game. It mimics real life challenges and provides intrinsic consequences. 

Scenario-based e-Learning works best in situations where a task rarely occurs, that requires critical skills, where the learner has some foundation knowledge and when the consequences in real life are too high for practice.

Author: Rema Merrick is managing member and lead instructional designer at Enovate Learning LLC. She’s the founder and moderator of the Instructional Design group Instructional Design Project Peer Review.


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